Aviation industry gathers to discuss emission controls

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An emissions offsetting scheme may be the most practical of three emission-control plans being considered by the International Civil Aviation Organization, says the head of industry association Air Transport Action Group.

ATAG executive director Paul Steele tells reporters Monday that an offsetting scheme, under which airlines or governments would buy credits in the open market to offset rising emissions, appears more practical than other options under consideration by ICAO.

Steele made his comments during ATAG's Aviation & Environment Workshop 2013, an event in Montreal, Canada aimed at exploring environmental issues affecting the industry, including so-called market-based measures for limiting carbon dioxide output.

"We are open to all suggestions, but probably we believe that, as a starting point, a simple offsetting scheme is the easiest to do," says Steele, adding that an offsetting scheme would be less complex and could be implemented faster than other options.

ATAG's meeting comes at a critical time.

Last November, the ICAO council agreed to form a high-level group to investigate market-based options, a move that paved the way for the European Commission to suspend inclusion of intercontinental flights in the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS). That averted a trade war that nations opposed to ETS had threatened.

Countries including the US, India and Russia, and airlines from those countries, said ETS violated the sovereignty of non-EU member states. Airlines have said ICAO is the appropriate body to govern emissions.

ICAO is now considering three options, including the offsetting scheme, under which ICAO would set a baseline for carbon emissions, possibly pegged to emission levels in the year 2020, said Steele. Airlines that exceed their limit would need to offset excess emissions by purchasing credits.

The second option would be similar to the first, but credits would be marked-up by an additional amount, which would be used to fund more efforts to limit emissions.

The third plan would be a full scale global emissions trading scheme, similar to the European Union's ETS, says Steele.

Starting tomorrow, market-based measures and other environmental topics like alternative aviation fuels will be discussed at ICAO's Symposium on Aviation and Climate Change, also in Montreal.

Then in September, lCAO will deliver its research into market-based measures at the organization's assembly.

Steele says its critical ICAO make progress towards a global marked-based system in September, but adds it will be difficult for all 192 member nations of ICAO to reach consensus.

"Trying to get 192 countries to agree on anything is difficult, but when the economic stakes are high and with differences between the developed and developing world, these are tough decisions," he says in an ATAG media release.