Education, education, education. These three priorities famously set out by former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair in the 1997 election campaign that ended in a landslide victory for his party could equally be applied to the ongoing campaign to convince the world to agree on a global market-based measure (MBM) to address aviation emissions.

The jury is still out, however, on whether the numerous seminars, webinars and information-sharing sessions taking place across the globe to educate states about the importance of such a measure will lead to the level of consensus needed to agree a proposal ahead of the autumn 2016 deadline.

At the last triennial ICAO Assembly in September 2013, member states agreed to report back at the next Assembly in September 2016 with a proposal for a global MBM scheme for international aviation that could be implemented by 2020. Since then, tense negotiations have been taking place as countries in differing stages of development attempt to find a method of curbing emissions that is deemed fair by all.

ICAO announced in April that it had concluded its first round of global aviation dialogues (GLADs) on MBMs. These two-day sessions, says the UN body, were designed “to share information on MBMs and their potential role in mitigating [carbon dioxide] emissions from international aviation, update ICAO’s progress on the development of its global MBM scheme, and provide an important opportunity for feedback and discussion amongst member states and relevant organisations”.

Five two-day GLADs were conducted throughout April, taking place in Cairo, Lima, Madrid, Nairobi and Singapore, and reaching 350 participants from 79 countries. A second round of GLADs is scheduled for next spring, by which point it is hoped the MBM proposal will have started to take on a more defined shape.

“The structure and format of the GLADs was designed specifically to inform and engage non-[ICAO] Council states on the basics of MBMs to complement the basket of emissions mitigation measures ICAO is already pursuing,” said ICAO Council president Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu on announcing the completion of the first round of GLADs.

ICAO says the highlights of its MBM dialogue sessions included “the simplicity and cost-effectiveness of a global scheme, the need for differentiation, and the goal of avoiding excessive cost or administrative burdens”.

“Perhaps most importantly for us, the states who attended these first GLADs discussions left looking forward to the second round, when a concrete proposal for a global MBM scheme is expected to be on the table,” says Daniel Azema, ICAO’s head of cabinet. “States and other international organisations are very eager for more information on how our sector can improve its environmental footprint, and ICAO is just as eager to provide it to them.”

ICAO is also planning to host a seminar at its Montreal headquarters in September, entitled Global Aviation Partnerships on Emissions Reductions.

Alongside the educational sessions conducted by ICAO, the airline industry will be putting forth its own efforts to preach the benefits of adopting a global measure, as opposed to a patchwork of regional schemes. At the forefront of those efforts will be IATA and the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG).

“There is a definite need for capacity-building – UN-speak for education – as to how the MBM will work, both for states and also for industry,” says ATAG head of communications Haldane Dodd.

“It is something we and IATA will be concentrating on after the [Global Sustainable Aviation] Summit [in September], to make sure that all parties which will be included in any future MBM are aware of their responsibilities and know about the decision that will be coming up at the ICAO Assembly. So we will likely run a series of workshops or webinars for airlines as part of this process, with ICAO needing to do something similar for governments.”

smog at Qingdao c REX

Severe air pollution, Qingdao

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The ATAG Summit itself will take place 60 days before the UN climate change conference – COP21 – in Paris, and a year ahead of the crucial ICAO Assembly. The Geneva-based event will, therefore, provide an important forum for the airline industry to promote and clarify its position.

“The ATAG Summit is expected to have a focus on the development of the MBM, with high-level discussions on the ICAO process taking place alongside technical discussions on alternative fuels, noise and best environmental action,” says Dodd. “Given that the global environment committees of IATA and ACI [Airports Council International] will also meet in Geneva during that week, it will be the chance for the industry to send a strong message to government negotiators in Paris and, more importantly for aviation, those meeting at ICAO.”

IATA would prefer the MBM to take the form of a mandatory carbon-offsetting scheme to be applied to emissions growth post-2020, using as a baseline the industry’s average annual emissions between 2018 and 2020. Other options on the table include a revenue-generating carbon-offsetting scheme where funds raised would be used to help developing countries tackle climate change-related issues, and an emissions trading system along the lines of the EU’s controversial ETS.

IATA environment chief Michael Gill acknowledges that there is much work to be done to convince the world that a single MBM would be in all parties’ interests, but he is encouraged by the discussions that have taken place so far.

“I think that the progress in the negotiations on the global MBM is very encouraging. What has been striking is that many states who were previously reticent to move those talks forward have now truly entered the discussions, participating actively in the exchange and putting forward new ideas and approaches,” says Gill. “There remains a lot of work ahead of us but I genuinely believe that there is a desire on the part of governments the world over to achieve what would be a unique and historic agreement in 2016.”

However, he admits that there are still many differences – particularly between developed and developing nations – on what form the MBM should take; hence the global education drive.

“The perennial issues of how to determine the obligations which would fall on individual operators in any future MBM scheme and how to reconcile the differing views of developed and developing states, including low emissions states and emerging markets, remain on the table,” says Gill.

While a global MBM is “vital” to help the aviation industry achieve its target of carbon-neutral growth from 2020, Gill points out that to reach the next objective of cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 50% by 2050, relative to 2005 levels, widespread use of sustainable aviation fuels will also be required. To this end, he wants governments to “recognise” the commitments that airlines have made to alternative fuels and “help bring production levels up so that prices can fall”.

What is clear is that negotiators will have to work hard over the next 12 months to ensure that the first piece of the jigsaw – the global MBM – can slot into place. “We are within touching distance of achieving an agreement at the 2016 ICAO Assembly and we cannot afford to let our commitment flag,” says Gill.

sunset smog at LAX c REX

Sunset through the smog, LAX

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