Goverments wrangle over climate change at ICAO

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Several governments took issue on 26 September with a draft proposal on how to reduce carbon emissions in the aviation industry, postponing a decision to forge a deal to address climate change until the following week at the ongoing 38th ICAO general assembly.

The assembly's executive committee, which is overseeing the climate change issue, will address it again on 2 October. In the interim, the committee will meet with governments bilaterally on the sidelines of the assembly to gather their views. The assembly closes 4 October and observers do not expect a deal to be agreed on until the last days of the event.

Civil aviation regulators from several countries presented their views on 26 September on the draft proposal, termed working paper 34, which was drafted and agreed on by the ICAO council. The council, a permanent body made up of 36 member states elected by the assembly, must have its decisions approved by a majority of the assembly.

Several nations, which spoke on the draft proposal on 26 September, were particularly concerned over two clauses in the working paper. One of the two clauses would allow member states to implement market-based measures that apply to flights to or from third countries that arrive in or depart from airports in those states. The clause would essentially allow countries to introduce their own schemes before a global market-based measure can be fully implemented. Such market-based measures could include carbon offsetting schemes or schemes similar to the controversial EU Emissions Trading System (ETS), which the bloc put on hold for the aviation sector after several countries protested against it.

The other clause, which has proved problematic for negotiations, proposes that countries whose share of international civil aviation activities is below 1% of total revenue tonne kilometres be exempted from these market-based measures. IATA has said that if this standard was applied, about 170 of ICAO's 191 member states will be exempted.

Countries such as New Zealand and Canada emphasised that they did not agree with the two clauses, with Canada's representative saying that the country was "concerned" about the consequences if unilateral schemes were rolled out. Peru's representative said a market-based measure should be only "temporary" and countries which have met their emissions reduction targets through other measures should be exempted from such a scheme. China and South Africa called for further studies to be done on the effectiveness of market-based measures before they are implemented, with China adding that developed nations should take the lead.

The council's draft proposal is the most highly contested resolution at the assembly, as the urgency to reach a consensus looms over ICAO member states. The European Commission warned last year it could restart the clock on implementing the ETS in the aviation sector if the ICAO assembly fails to forge a deal on a global solution to address climate change. The aviation industry has committed to keep emissions flat from 2020, but must agree on a solution in the interim.