Difficulties remain on moves towards a global solution on aviation emissions but Durban talks bring some hope

Difficulties remain on moves towards a global solution on aviation emissions but Durban talks bring some hope | COP 17

A successful, if limited, outcome in Durban

Tue 13 Dec 2011 – The now familiar pattern of a last-minute balancing act between success and failure at UNFCCC COP climate negotiations at least this time resulted in decisions taken at COP 17 in Durban that will lead the process through the rest of the decade. More so than in recent years, international aviation received some high-profile attention, mainly as a result of discussions over sources of long-term funding for the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and an attempt by India to raise the issue of unilateral trade measures imposed by richer countries at the expense of the developing world, a move partly aimed at heading off the inclusion by Europe of airlines from non-Annex I countries into the EU ETS. Once again, negotiations over action on dealing with emissions reduction from international aviation and shipping (bunkers) got nowhere. With the winding up of the working group concerned (AWG-LCA) by the time of the next COP in Qatar, to be replaced by another, difficulties remain on how to deal with conflicting UN principles.


So little progress was made in the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action (AWG-LCA) on which principles should apply to international aviation and shipping, beyond that action on emissions reduction should be handled by ICAO and IMO respectively, that the final agreed text mentioned only that the WG agreed to continue consideration of the issue.


However, the formation of the new working group, the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (acronym to be decided), is part of the newly agreed negotiating process to develop a new legal instrument to replace the Kyoto Protocol by no later than 2015, with implementation by 2020. A second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol will be established starting in January 2013 and run until the end of 2017 or 2020 (to be decided at COP 18). However, with the United States already outside and Canada having now pulled out of the Protocol,and Japan and Russia possibly following suit, this leaves only Europe, Australia and New Zealand from the developed world in the KP process, with less than 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions covered by the Protocol.


On the brighter side, the new Durban agreement will crucially see the new Durban Platform WG cover all countries and all emissions, something as yet not achieved in the more than 20 years of climate negotiations, observes Damian Ryan, Senior Policy Manager with The Climate Group, a global environmental organisation closely involved with the forward-looking Aviation Global Deal Group.


Under Article 2.2 of the Kyoto Protocol it is the developed Annex I states – not developing states – that are called on to limit or reduce emissions from international aviation through ICAO. In a largely deregulated and competitive global commercial sector his has proved an intractable problem for ICAO.


Ryan believes the new track process could open the door to a more pragmatic approach to the aviation and shipping issue and a more determined effort to solve the Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR) principle that has underpinned the UNFCCC mindset, which is the reverse of the equal treatment provision established under sister UN agency ICAO.


“That would be my ‘glass half full’ view but I think it will take the whole three to four year negotiating process until 2015 to get to this point because CBDR, as it has traditionally been understood, is not going to be suddenly dropped by the major emerging economies,” he told GreenAir.


“Most countries recognise that ICAO is the place where the detailed measures for dealing with aviation emissions will be decided. The UNFCCC’s role is simply to give direction in terms of any overall emission reduction target and the coverage – developed states only or both developed and developing. As we have seen, getting even agreement on these points is very difficult, so ICAO is left to do what it can.”


Paul Steele, Executive Director of the cross-industry Air Transport Action Group (ATAG), agrees that nearly all countries agree that ICAO remains the most appropriate place to deal with aviation emissions but expressed disappointment at the Durban outcome.


“While it seems as if significant progress has been made in the broader climate agreement, there was yet again no progress on getting a global sectoral approach for aviation emissions,” he said. “The industry will continue to engage with ICAO to ensure that an ambitious work programme can deliver an outcome on aviation emissions by the next ICAO Assembly in 2013. The tough nature of the negotiations under UNFCCC really places pressure on those same governments to deliver something meaningful at ICAO.”


During the Durban climate talks, comments by ICAO Secretary General Raymond Benjamin made to Bloomberg on a visit to London suggested that ICAO aimed to strike an agreement next year for the creation of a global aviation carbon market to be managed by the World Bank for the world’s 50 biggest nations.


An ICAO spokesman denied the accuracy of the report, saying it was not in the agency’s mandate. A recent declaration adopted by its Council has though called on ICAO to accelerate its work on measures agreed at last year’s Assembly, including the development of an international framework for market-based measures, such as emissions trading, a highly contentious subject at both ICAO and UNFCCC. Implementation would require an agreement by the 190-member states and could not be actioned before consideration at the 2013 Assembly.


The declaration adopted by the Council followed an agreement reached in Delhi at the end of September by 26 developed and developing nations (see article) that called on the EU to stop the inclusion of airlines from outside Europe into the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).


The issue was raised again during the Durban talks with climate negotiators from countries such as China, Venezuela, Japan and India calling the European scheme unacceptable. India attempted to have the matter placed on the formal agenda but failed to get it adopted.


India called on developed countries not to resort to unilateral trade and other measures in their climate actions. “The European Union’s extension of its Emissions Trading Scheme to aviation, and thereby to all carriers landing in or departing from EU airports offers a ready example,” said its submission. “The scheme stands in violation of the UNFCCC as it does not respect the principles of CBDR of developed and developing countries and proposes to operate the ETS outside the EU boundaries without multilateral or bilateral consent.”


Both EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard and the EU’s chief climate negotiator Artur Runge-Metzger said during the talks that there was no possibility of the EU backing down on the scheme.


The EU’s successful bridge-building with many developing countries that resulted in support for its road map strategy and the ultimate positive outcome at Durban may have mitigated a lot of developing country opposition to the EU ETS, believes Damian Ryan.


“I suspect, however, this is not the end of it,” he said. “For example, the work plan for the Ad Hoc Working Group Durban Platform has yet to be developed and adopted. I would be very surprised if India lets this opportunity pass without trying to get the issue on the table for formal discussion.”


It appears the issue of unilateral trade measures is also to be explored through a workshop at a future session of the UNFCCC.


A small aviation industry delegation was present during the course of the COP and held a side event to promote the industry’s activities to reduce emissions. ATAG’s Paul Steele said the delegation had heard concerns from nations outside Europe about the impact the EU ETS would have on their economies and their airlines.


“The EU has been rebuffed, from countries around the world that are both developing and developed, large and small, and shows why aviation and shipping must be dealt with at a global level, in line with the industry’s approach,” he said. “ICAO is the most appropriate place for a global framework to be decided, so we can avoid the distractions of the EU ETS and get on with crafting an effective and solid agreement on how to deal with aviation emissions.”


Another issue affecting aviation and shipping that is sure to be ongoing at the UNFCCC concerns the Green Climate Fund (GCF), which aims to channel around $100 billion a year by 2020 to help poorer countries deal with climate change. Although headway was made in Durban on agreement over the design of the fund, little was achieved on establishing where the money would come from.


South African planning minister Trevor Manuel, who is also co-chairman of the GCF Transitional Committee, told a local paper during the Durban talks that taxing aviation and shipping would be looked at. However a proposal to generate cash for the fund from international shipping faced such opposition that it did not survive in the final text.


ATAG’s Steele said aviation was willing to explore the possibility of contributing but it had to be part of a global approach to address aviation emissions through ICAO.


“However, any sectoral contributions into the GCF must be fair and proportionate,” he added. “No sector should be singled out and no sector should be asked to shoulder a disproportionate share of the overall requirements. Any revenues raised from aviation should primarily be used to finance mitigation and adaptation measures throughout the aviation sector particularly to develop sustainable aviation biofuels, including in the developing countries.”


Finance from aviation sector to the GCF also causes some concerns for ICAO as it could divert resources away from efforts to reduce emissions. In its routine report to the UNFCCC’s Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) ICAO acknowledged the potential generation of GCF revenue through the application of market-based measures to international aviation.


“It should be noted that the global aspirational goals for the international aviation sector ... will require adequate financial resources within the sector itself, enabling it to effectively respond to the global climate change challenge,” said ICAO’s submission.


“It is of utmost importance that the design and implementation of market-based measures for international aviation be treated as an element of ICAO’s comprehensive mitigation strategy to achieve the global aspirational goals, as part of global solutions for the sustainable development of international aviation, and not in isolation.”


Market-based measures would be the favoured route to raising finance for the GCF and preferable to a tax or levy on passenger tickets or fuel, which although probably easier to set up would be unlikely to result in lower global aviation emissions.


The glacial progress at ICAO in reaching robust measures to limit the growth of global aviation emissions has much to do with the road block existing at the UNFCCC. It remains to be seen if the decisions reached in Durban can finally unlock the impasse and lead to a growing goodwill between the developed and developing world that will result in a binding global solution for aviation. But it’s a start.




UNFCCC – COP 17 decisions

UNFCCC - Establishment of Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action  (pdf)

UNFCCC – AWG-LCA COP 17 outcome (pdf)

UNFCCC – India proposals on unilateral trade measures (pdf)

UNFCCC – Report on GCF by Transitional Committee (pdf)

UNFCCC – SBSTA submission by ICAO & IMO (pdf)

Air Transport Action Group (ATAG)

The Climate Group

Aviation Global Deal Group

Bloomberg report



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