Environmental groups pressure U.N. body for carbon aviation deal

Environmental groups have urged the United States to back a global deal to curb carbon emissions produced by planes, noting that global aviation emits more of the greenhouse gas than all but six of the world’s nations.

The groups, alarmed at scant progress toward an agreement within a United Nations aviation body, presented a petition with more than 60,000 signatures on Monday to a representative of the U.S. State Department.

The petition asked U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to secure agreement under the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) for a market-based approach to curb heat-trapping emissions produced by planes.

Environmental groups, such as the Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council, want Kerry to honor a statement he made while still a U.S. senator that nations must forge an international agreement on aviation emissions.

Kerry did not attend a meeting of high-level negotiators from 17 countries from March 25 to March 27 at ICAO’s Montreal headquarters but his climate change envoy Todd Stern represented the State Department

The high-level group is attempting to devise a plan that would avert the reinstatement of an unpopular European Union law requiring all aircraft that land at or take off from EU airports to pay for emissions through the bloc’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).

The United States, China, India and Russia all lobbied fiercely against the EU law’s planned implementation date of 2012. The countries won a one-year reprieve from Europe, where officials were worried about touching off a trade war.

In November the European Commission said its agreement to freeze the law for a year was intended to spur the creation of a less contentious global alternative at ICAO.

Since then ICAO’s working group has considered various market-based measures to address emissions, such as mandatory carbon offsetting and a global carbon cap-and-trade system.

Aoife O’Leary, a policy officer for the advocacy group Transportation & Environment, told Reuters that three days of talks this week left negotiators no closer to an agreement.

“There is not much prospect of any global market-based mechanism by September,” said O’Leary, who presented to the group on behalf of the International Coalition for Sustainable Aviation, an umbrella group of environmental NGOs.

O’Leary’s presentation said that a global market-based mechanism to set a price on carbon emissions was the only way the airline industry can meet its own goal of achieving carbon-neutral growth in 2020 and cutting emissions 50 percent by 2050.

She said a plan for a global market-based mechanism should be agreed in time for ICAO’s triennial assembly of its over 190 member countries in September, and that the assembly should agree to an “accelerated timeline” to implement it by 2016.

But so far, delegates have not advanced a plan, and concluded this week’s meeting with a draft of general principles to discuss at a later meeting.

Countries seem to be deadlocked over the geographic scope of a global mechanism over how to charge for carbon emissions related to international flights.

A U.S. proposal for curbing aircraft emissions would exclude time spent flying over international waters. The EU, on the other hand, wants to apply a carbon charge to emissions released over international airspace.

U.S. airlines want any market-based mechanism delayed at least for the rest of the decade, instead preferring to focus on improving “technology, operations and infrastructure”.
Reuters, March, 28, 2013