ICAO realistic about emissions schemes as its 37th Assembly begins

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ICAO leadership plans to take a practical approach during its triennial Assembly beginning on 28 September to achieve a highly-anticipated framework for cutting greenhouse gas emissions from the aviation industry.

After no specific decision was taken to address emissions from global aviation during the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meeting in Copenhagen of December of last year, pressure mounted on ICAO to have a comprehensive scheme in place when the UNFCCC meets again later this year in Cancun.

During an interview with ATI on 26 September Secretary General of ICAO Raymond Benjamin acknowledged discussions during the ICAO Assembly to achieve an agreement on a global greenhouse gas reduction scheme will be difficult as the organisation attempts to balance the needs of its developing members states with mature countries.

During a high-level meeting in October of last year, ICAO's 190 member states agreed to a 2% annual fuel efficiency improvement to 2050, a goal of establishing a CO2 certification standard for aircraft engines, developing a framework for market based measures and committing to aid developing states access financial resources and benefit from technology transfer.

Benjamin says discussions among member states to move beyond those goals have been challenging, and underscoring the sensitivity of the environmental issues, he explains he will present the formal draft resolution outlining the framework for greenhouse gas reductions instead ICAO's 33 member council.

Despite encouragement from the UNFCCC that ICAO can develop a global emissions reduction scheme for international aviation and still adhere to its core principle of nondiscrimination for developing states, Benjamin says a majority of ICAO's 190 member states are developing countries, and some of those entities "can be very forceful".

One element in the draft resolution Benjamin plans to present is a de minimis clause that would exempt member states with traffic below certain levels from being required to participate in market based measures to reduce emissions. Benjamin explains that while those specifics levels need to be addressed, he believes a de minimis clause "can ease the discussions".

During the ICAO pre-assembly conference, the European Commission's policy officer for aviation safety and the environment David Bachelor explained when discussions centre on a common global emissions reduction goal, some states will "deliver more of the goal and some will deliver less".

Benjamin sees no conflict in IATA's stated goal of a 1.5% annual fuel efficiency improvement through 2020 and ICAO's 2% target. Similar to IATA's stance, he explains the 0.5% gap needs to addressed by governments, and emphasises that "a lot of improvements can be made in the use of airspace, particularly in Europe".

As the sensitive discussions on a global emissions framework for international aviation get underway, Benjamin says "whatever emerges from the assembly we will bring to Cancun". If there's no movement on specifically developing a framework for market based measures to manage emissions during the Assembly, ICAO will stress its intent to developing a framework at the next UNFCCC meeting.

He also questions if the UNFCCC later this year in Cancun will acknowledge the aviation industry's goals to reduce emissions. "The likelihood that Cancun will produce something substantial is quite limited," he says, explaining that unlike ICAO, which works through a majority, the UNFCCC operates around achieving consensus on issues.

Benjamin says that from his own point of view it "would be sad if the [ICAO] Assembly is highjacked on the environmental issue", since important safety and security subjects are also being addressed.

But industry continues to press for ICAO to take a more definite emissions reduction scheme to Cancun. "We need all governments on board sharing climate leadership for aviation with agreement on a global framework under ICAO that can be endorsed by COP-16 [UNFCCC meeting in Cancun]," IATA director general Giovanni Bisignanni recently concluded.