ICAO Committee Backs Carbon Standard for Aircraft

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By Peter Menyasz and Andrew Childers

Feb. 8 — An International Civil Aviation Organization committee recommended adoption of what would be the first requirement that airplane manufacturers curb carbon dioxide emissions from planes.

The standard recommended by the Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection would apply to new aircraft type designs starting in 2020 and new deliveries of currently in-production aircraft types starting in 2023, with a 2028 cutoff date for production of noncompliant aircraft, the United Nations agency said Feb. 8 in a statement.

The approval by the committee, composed of 170 aviation experts, clears the way for ultimate adoption by the agency's 36-member governing council, it said. The governing body of the Montreal-based ICAO is expected to meet in the last week of February.

“The goal of the process is ultimately to ensure that when the next generation of aircraft types enter service, there will be guaranteed reductions in international carbon dioxide emissions,” Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu, the governing council's president, said in the statement.

“Our sector presently accounts for under 2 percent of the world's annual carbon dioxide emissions, but we also recognize that the projected doubling of global passengers and flights by 2030 must be managed responsibly and sustainably.”

The standard would be particularly stringent for larger aircraft, as those weighing more than 60 metric tons account for more than 90 percent of international aviation emissions, the agency said. It also would ensure that the full range of sizes and types of aircraft currently used in international aviation are covered, it said.

Carbon emissions from airplanes was not an element of the UN-led Paris Agreement on climate change reached last December, but ICAO had been looking at possible steps to address the issue.

International Standards Insufficient

Environmental advocates in the U.S. say the proposal is insufficient and should put more pressure on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to pursue more aggressive standards in a proposal that could come later this year.

While the UN body did not release details of the committee's agreement, the Center for Biological Diversity, which had sued the EPA over aviation emissions, said a 4 percent reduction in aircraft fuel consumption by 2028 is not adequate.

“It doesn’t change business as usual because the standards are going to be running behind the technology development. It’s not acceptable,” Vera Pardee, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, told Bloomberg BNA.

The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed an endangerment rule (RIN 2060-AS31) that greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft pose a danger to the public and environment and should be regulated under the Clean Air Act. With that, the EPA also issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking suggesting the agency will likely follow international standards, a move favored by the airline industry in comments on the proposal .

The EPA's final endangerment finding is expected in June, and environmental advocates say the agency has to move quickly to propose federal standards in the time the Obama administration has remaining.

“They’ve been working on the standards,” Pardee said. “They have got their thoughts together. All the information is there. There’s nothing else they need to do.”

Administration Defends Deal

Despite criticism for environmental groups, the Obama administration touted the deal as a significant step forward and said additional reductions could be achieved through an additional market mechanism to reduce emissions to be negotiated later this year. The agreement ICAO reached represents the upper limit being discussed by participants and will prevent 650 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions by 2040, a senior administration official told reporters.

“The U.S. pushed hard for a strong standard,” the official said. “We’re very pleased with the result. This is the first ever standard of its type.”

While the carbon dioxide standard represents the first phase of emissions reductions, ICAO is expected to pursue an additional reduction effort through market mechanisms later this year as part of a goal to make growth in the airline industry carbon neutral after 2020. The proposed standards also will be subject to a review in 2019 to ensure that the requirements keep pace with technological innovation.

“This is a really strong result and one we’re quite pleased with,” the official said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Peter Menyasz in Ottawa at correspondents@bna.com and Andrew Childers in Washington at correspondents@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Greg Henderson at ghenderson@bna.com