'Key Moment' for Global Aircraft Emissions This Week

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By Anthony Adragna

May 9 — High-level negotiations getting under way in Montreal represent a “very key moment” for how countries around the world structure an agreement curbing carbon dioxide emissions from aircraft, environmental advocates said May 9.

Major unresolved issues in the possible International Civil Aviation Organization deal include how much, or if, both developed and developing nations will be asked to slash emissions from their aircraft and whether a global agreement includes a review mechanism to revisit—and possibly strengthen—it in the future, the groups said.

“This is one of the first times where we will see the negotiating lines begin to harden between and among the different countries,” Annie Petsonk, international counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund, told reporters. “People have been very careful in not presenting their fully developed positions until now.”

Aircraft account for approximately two percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, but are among the fastest growing sources, according to the Obama administration. If implemented, the draft ICAO standards are estimated to prevent 650 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions by 2040.

Draft Proposal Considered

In February, a committee within ICAO recommended adoption of what would be the first standards requiring airline manufacturers curb carbon dioxide emissions from aircraft. If adopted, the standard would apply to new aircraft type designs starting in 2020 and new deliveries of currently in-production aircraft types starting in 2023 (25 ECR, 2/8/16).

Discussions of that draft market-based measure for addressing emissions will run from May 11 through May 13. Negotiators will then make recommendations to the ICAO general assembly, which plans to meet to discuss the standards during its Sept. 27-Oct. 7 meeting.

The international efforts come as the U.S. appears poised to take the first step domestically toward regulating airline emissions. The Environmental Protection Agency sent a final endangerment finding (RIN:2060-AS31) to the White House May 5 for review that is expected to conclude industry emissions pose a risk to human health and the environment (88 ECR, 5/6/16).

Concern Over Backsliding

A key priority for environmental advocates moving forward is ensuring countries do not weaken the standards as they strive to reach an agreement, Andrew Murphy, aviation and shipping officer for Transport & Environment, said.

Advocates continue to believe the standards are not as ambitious as they could be. They pointed to language in the draft agreement that they said could exempt up to 40 percent of emissions.

“This is a major event and all countries will basically be participating,” Brad Schallert, program officer on international climate with the World Wildlife Fund, said. “This is a very key moment right now.”

As in broader international climate change talks, a key question for negotiators to resolve is how to handle the principle of “common but differentiated” responsibilities. That principle, first outlined in the 1992 parent treaty to international United Nations climate negotiations, suggests action on climate change should be commensurate with what a nation can afford or achieve technologically.

Despite the fact that the 2015 Paris Agreement “broke through that wall,” Petsonk said she fully expects some countries will assert the emissions cuts should apply to developed nations but not developing ones at the upcoming Montreal talks.

To contact the reporter on this story: Anthony Adragna in Washington at aadragna@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

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