Billed as the "last chance saloon" for global aviation in its quest for an internationally accepted basis for emissions trading, the latest high-level meeting convened by the International Civil Aviation Organisation seems to be making headway towards consensus on harnessing industry's impact on climate change.
Speaking at the Transatlantic Aviation Issues conference in Brussels in early July, Raymond Cron, director-general of the Swiss civil aviation authority, spelt out what Europe believes the industry must do.
Cron, vice-president of the 42-member European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC), warned that while initial talks by ICAO's specially formed 15-member Group on International Aviation and Climate Change (GIACC) were positive, ICAO's 190 signatory states had to act now or risk the serious consequence of being effectively overridden by international moves to hammer out a strengthened international deal on climate change.
The second GIACC meeting at ICAO's Montreal headquarters coincided neatly with the latest G8 summit meeting, where the European Union, France, Germany, Italy and the UK issued a barely veiled diplomatic prompt to ICAO and the International Maritime Organisation, reminding them both of "the importance of expeditious discussions" on limiting or reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the international aviation and maritime sectors, "bearing in mind the distinct processes under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change [UNFCCC] toward an agreed outcome for the post-2012 period".
Cron said GIACC "had to deliver a good result and it has to do this by the summer of 2009 if ICAO, and thus the aviation sector, is to maintain its responsibility for addressing the issue of global emissions. If ICAO does not go forward with a positive message to the UNFCCC conference in December 2009, then there is the risk that the responsibility for aviation emissions will pass to others and out of the control of the aviation community."
He added: "If I may borrow from the language of western movies, the GIACC is probably the last chance saloon for ICAO on this particular subject."
All GIACC discussions were played out against Europe's insistence that if ICAO does not move to introduce globally accepted market-based measures, international aviation will have to embrace them through Europe's emissions trading regime.
"We were disappointed that the EU continues to move down its unilateral course of emissions trading, especially on the eve of the GIACC meeting," says US Federal Aviation Administration director of the office of environment and energy Carl Burleson, who attended the meeting as an adviser.
For its part, Europe, in its ECAC embodiment, expressed its own disappointment last September by accusing ICAO at the conclusion of its triennial general assembly of failing to live up to its leadership role by limiting climate change action to developing "aspirational" goals for a future industry-led initiative.
ICAO's European delegates, who face acute public pressure on aviation's environmental impact, at that time moved swiftly to reserve the right to "act in the wider global interest" by extending the EU scheme to all flights arriving and departing from its airports.
This legislative proposal, the enactment of which is imminent, has incensed industry luminaries such as International Air Transport Association director-general Giovanni Bisignani, who has repeatedly levelled that instead of positive environmental action, Europe's bid for fiscal extra-territoriality will only create an international legal mess.
"The drafters of the Kyoto Protocol understood this and tasked ICAO to deal with aviation and the environment. But this wisdom did not make it to the European Parliament. Even as France, Germany, Italy, the UK and the EU signed a G8 declaration reconfirming ICAO's role in delivering a global solution, the European Parliament moved in the opposite direction by voting for a regional emissions trading scheme. Good sense has been hijacked by uncoordinated green policies," he said at a sustainable aviation briefing at Farnborough.
The USA, meanwhile, maintains that a performance-based approach focused on efficiency that fosters technology and innovation is the goal that should prevail. Not only that, but a certain amount of flexibility should also be built in to any future mechanism.
On this last point, during the inaugural GIACC meeting in February it was stressed that a variety of circumstances should be taken into account when tackling aviation emissions because countries have various levels of development and performance.
A multi-path approach comprising operational measures, market-based measures, voluntary measures, improvements in air traffic management and technological advances was also discussed, according to minutes.
What was achieved at the latest GIACC summit?
Between now and February, members of the GIACC agreed to research fuel efficiency goals, examine mechanisms for achieving that efficiency and, vitally, how to determine what progress will be measured.
"The positive on this was consensus to work toward an efficiency goal in the short term. There was a lot of interest in a carbon neutral growth goal in the mid-term," says Nancy LoBue, the USA's formal GIACC representative and FAA deputy assistant administrator for aviation policy, planning and environment.
The working group looking at mechanisms will consider topics such as operational issues, biofuels and market-based measures, and will be advised by ICAO's Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection.
The progress measurement group will discuss what data is available, what data is needed for benchmarking and how data will be reported, LoBue says.
Another topic likely to be up for discussion again is the role and responsibility of developing countries versus developed countries in regards to emissions. Developed and developing countries have different views on responsibility, so the context of using market-based measures on a voluntary basis remains high on the wishlist.
A member of the European delegation agrees that there now exists a blueprint for action - a cause for a certain degree of optimism in the European camp.
"When GIACC set off we were quite clear that to achieve something we needed some work programme going forward, so we strongly supported the setting up of the three working groups that would look at goals, how we draw up a menu of measures from which ICAO members states can choose, plus measurement. We were also very encouraged when we examined achievable goals that the concept of carbon neutral growth and even carbon reductions could feature going forward on an agreed agenda or at least be 'given consideration'."
TERMS OF REFERENCE
The member added that terms of reference of the three working groups have still to be worked out by the South African chairman of the meeting, who will update them to reflect the opinions on how concepts such as carbon neutral growth could be achieved,
"There was discussion by all parties, but in the end there was no absolute agreement on what the specific terms of reference should be, as there were differing views from developing countries about the necessity of including that concept within the terms. There was certainly no intention that states will be forced to take specific actions and we were still very happy with the draft terms of references," the European delegate said.
No specific date for finalisation of the terms of reference has been set, although working groups have been established and their members and chairman assigned so in principle they should be agreed as soon as possible.
A timeline for various goals will also be determined during the next GIACC meeting, which is due to meet next on 16-18 February 2009 and 1-3 June 2009.
As ECAC's Cron points out, Europe believes ICAO now has to make progress in establishing an action plan that could include a framework for market-based measures such as emissions trading: "That means we must agree a programme of action for the period up to the third meeting, otherwise precious time - and indeed credibility - could be lost."
Europe warns that if ICAO does not move to introduce globally accepted market-based measures, aviation will have to embrace its emissions trading regime