The 31 August deadline for submissions to the European Union emissions trading scheme is approaching fast and while the strictures of EU Directive 2008/101/EC could mean airlines winning - or losing - the odd $40 million or so depending on how they respond, the potential fallout is sure to be weighing heavily on global air transport's sovereign body, the International Civil Aviation Organisation.

How far has ICAO moved towards a global rather than regional deal as it bids to establish a united front and placate those who demand that aviation harness its carbon emissions?

 © Rex Features

At this year's Aviation and Environment Summit in Geneva, a timely declaration acknowledged that the industry recognised the important work all sectors and governments must undertake in the lead-up to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations in Copenhagen, where a post-Kyoto deal from 2012 will be negotiated in December.

 © Rex Features
John Begin  GIACC secretary: "Tight time to which the group is operating will require flawless execution

Urging policymakers to develop and adopt a global sectorial approach to aviation emissions at Copenhagen, the summit declared that national and regional emissions management schemes are generally ineffective in reducing emissions from truly global industries such as aviation, and are complicated for industry to administer, potentially leading to competitive distortion.

The summit called on ICAO through its Group on International Aviation and Climate Change (GIACC) to urgently renew efforts to recommend a framework that provides equal treatment of airlines while recognising the special needs of developing nations. GIACC should, the summit insisted, deliver some substantive proposals by its next meeting scheduled for late May.

Tasked in 2007 by the ICAO general assembly with creating emissions reduction recommendations, the 15-member GIACC will by then have met for the fourth time.

John Begin, GIACC secretary, told the summit that "the incredibly tight timeline to which the group is operating will continue to require flawless execution". Scheduled to meet on 25-27 May, the outcome of that fourth meeting will be published in a report due to be published between 22 and 26 June.


That will go before ICAO's council at its 187th session on 29 June-3 July. Signatory states and observers then have until 28 August to submit papers to a dedicated high-level meeting scheduled to be held from 7-9 October, which will precede ICAO's ultimate input to the UNFCCC by 23 October.

Begin reported at the summit that GIACC working groups have now formulated a basket of measures available to the various 190 signatory states that constitute ICAO, together with some global aspirational goals as well as a means to measure and report progress.

Following its third meeting in Montreal in February, it was proposed that developing nations and countries - where climate change adaptation measures are guaranteed to be a challenge - that emit below a certain greenhouse gas emissions threshold should be held to a different standard than developed nations, and should not have to report emissions until they achieve a certain percentage of passenger revenue kilometres.

Another GIACC working group came up with aspirational goals while another was charged with developing measures that will help the industry to achieve those goals such as air traffic control improvements and renewable fuels - by cost and by short-, medium- and long-term goals.

Some ideas are beginning to emerge for GIACC's fourth meeting although details remain sketchy. What is known is that some fresh initiatives are on the GIACC radar.

The Association of European Airlines recently drew up a proposal for a tiered trading scheme, which it argues moves away from individual states to a global sector-wide approach. While adhering to the Kyoto principle of common but differentiated responsibility, its architect believes it allows for different levels of environmental stringency, depending on the stage of economic development, without causing competitive distortions.

The Aviation Global Deal (AGD) group, which comprises Air France/KLM, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Qatar Airways and Virgin Atlantic, similarly believes that it has a framework that addresses international aviation's carbon emissions while setting out an "ambitious, equitable and effective" approach.

The AGD launched its manifesto at a UNFCCC inter-sessional meeting in Bonn in April, where perhaps more interestingly, the Australian government announced it was preparing its own scheme for a global initiative, similar to AGD's proposal.

This is understood to propose a levy on flights with all the money directed into a fund that can be used to purchase offsets with the developing country interest addressed in that it guarantees a market for clean development mechanism credits.

"The interesting point for GIACC is how much consensus can be generated around each proposal. Use of revenues is likely to be a big issue for market-based measures while many have commented that developing countries are unlikely to agree to a global deal and weaken their position on common but differentiated responsibilities in a general climate context ahead of Copenhagen," says Tim Johnson, an official ICAO observer from the Aviation and Environment Federation.

Within the UNFCCC, the use of revenues is already an agenda issue for bunker fuels, with the Maldives on behalf of the 50 least developed countries proposing a levy on international aviation to fund climate adaptation.

"Apparently, this is something where developed countries have promised finance in the past and have not delivered the cash. So this time they are looking for a measure that will guarantee it as a vehicle for financing measures. There have been few other proposals and the general mood is wait and see what ICAO's high-level meeting delivers in the autumn," says Johnson.

Tim Johnson Aviation and Environment Foundation: "Use of revenue is likely to be a big issue for market-based measures

Begin struck a gloomy note when he underlined at the summit the fact that while each UN agency - of which ICAO is one and the UNFCCC another - has independent authority as mandated in their convention, such agencies act on the basis of the mandate determined by their contracting states.

That means that GIACC efforts could hit the buffers through sheer lack of government will. Any lack of action expressed through governments at ICAO may further be directly reflected in a similar lack of will on the part of the UNFCCC.


On the positive side, the secretariats of both UN agencies co-operate closely, says Begin. He adds that GIACC is also developing consensus on an in-service fleet efficiency goal of 2% a year between now and 2012.

This goals group by the conclusion of its February meeting stopped short of defining any medium- and long-term aims, but a medium-term goal is likely to be between 2020 and 2025, with the consensus that 2050 should be used for the long-term timeline using the basis for extrapolation historic trends between 1990 and 2006 on a litres of fuel divided by revenue tonne per kilometre basis.

It is also understood that the USA is proposing a fuel efficiency goal that goes beyond the 2% and possibly as high as 3%, but more likely to be 2.5% a year.

"Based on a paper we were developing, we put the 2.5% medium-term and 3% long-term numbers into the discussion as the focus was on aspirational goals. As the underlying analysis we're working on would show, the numbers are very ambitious," says FAA environment chief Carl Burleson, who is an adviser at GIACC.

"It would require a very significant commitment to move technology development and insertion forward - with all the caveats entailed in bringing longer-term research and development concepts to fruition - to those kinds of efficiency gains."

Source: Flight International