U.S., 16 Other Countries Weigh Options to Curb Aviation Greenhouse Gas Emissions

GENEVA--Representatives from the United States and 16 other countries met Dec. 12-13 in Montreal for the first round of discussions on formulating a global agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the aviation sector.

The meeting at the International Civil Aviation Organization of the newly established High-level Group on International Aviation and Climate Change (HGCC) looked at two possible approaches to a market-based measure (MBM) system for addressing aviation emissions.

One option is a single global system of mandatory offsets and/or emissions trading, which would be adopted by all ICAO member states. The second option is a more flexible framework that would allow member states to implement their own market-based measures.

In addition to the United States, countries taking part in the high-level group discussions are Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, France, India, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Uganda, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom.

The U.S. delegation to the meeting was headed by Todd Stern, the State Department’s special envoy for climate change.

ICAO spokesman Anthony Philbin said the HGCC evaluated a wide range of market-based policy considerations and will reconvene early next year to continue its work.

“This will include further consideration of policy aspects of MBMs and other mechanisms being developed in ICAO to reduce the carbon intensity of international civil aviation, including national Action Plans, the development of sustainable alternative fuels, improved technology, enhanced operational procedures, etc.,” Philbin said.

Starting Date of 'Around 2020'

Paul Steele, executive director of the Air Transport Action Group, which represents industry as an observer in the discussions, said the talks were still in an early stage and cautioned that any global emissions agreement would take some time to put into place.

“Nearly everybody now is talking about a starting date around 2020,” he said. “That’s not to say we don’t need to get things into place pretty soon, but it’s not like we have to have everything finalized in September.”

European Union Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard announced Nov. 12 that the EU is suspending plans to include flights into and out of the EU in its Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) to allow time to reach a global solution through ICAO. However, EU officials said airlines automatically will be included in its cap-and-trade program in 2014 if a suitable international measure is not adopted at next September’s meeting of the ICAO’s ruling Assembly (219 DEN A-9, 11/14/12).

The extraterritorial application of the ETS to foreign carriers has prompted a sharp backlash outside the EU. Earlier this year China suspended approval for $12 billion worth of aircraft orders from the European consortium Airbus in retaliation for EU requirements. In addition, President Obama signed a bill Nov. 27 that bars U.S. airlines from participating in the ETS (228 DEN A-1, 11/28/12).

Little Clarity on Framework

Steele said the first day of the HGCC discussions were dedicated to issues relating to the proposed framework, while the second day was focused on the single global scheme.

In regards to the framework discussions, questions were raised by representatives as to what is meant by a framework on MBMs and to what extent one member state may impose an emissions measure on another state’s airlines or airspace.

“Given the opposition to the ETS, they’re all allergic to the idea of having anything that would impose something on another state’s airspace without the consent of that state,” Steele said.

“There’s not a lot of clarity around what a framework actually is,” Steele added. “Is it an agreement with some fairly tight rules on how a state should implement a market-based measure, or is it a general statement of policy that could be more broadly interpreted?”

“There were no conclusions on that at all,” he continued. “I would describe it as the first opportunity for states to explore the issues.”

Questions Raised About Single System

A similar outcome occurred in the subsequent discussions on the single global scheme, with many questions raised and no conclusions reached. While an ICAO group of experts is working on options for a single scheme, detailed work remains on complex issues such as monitoring, reporting and verification, possible offsets, creating emissions allowances, and running registries.

“There’s a recognition that trying to get a single scheme agreed at the ICAO Assembly in September is not likely. I don’t think it’s possible,” Steele said, adding that the ICAO Assembly probably would be asked to give a mandate for further work on the issue. “There’s a whole mountain of detailed work that would need to be done.”

Steele said the situation may become more clear at the HGCC’s next meeting in the week of Jan. 28-Feb. 1.

“By the time they come to the end of January, I think people would have formulated firmer opinions and views, and I think we’ll start to see trends emerging in that meeting,” he said.

“I think maybe a framework with some further developments of principles and guidance in the interim, and then hopefully a move towards a single mechanism, may be the direction they’re heading,” he added. “I’m not suggesting that’s the direction the discussion went this week, but it’s possible that’s the direction it may be going.”

Opposition to ETS Still 'Rock Solid'

The one thing which was clear from the initial discussions, Steele said, is that the opposition to the ETS “is still rock solid.”

ICAO’s governing council is due to review progress in the HGCC discussions at its next meeting in March and again in June in preparation for the important Assembly gathering.

“The real negotiations are likely to take place between June and September,” when the Assembly meets, Steele said. “That’s the tough time.”

By Daniel Pruzin