By their essentially global scope, controlling emissions from international aviation, to be negotiated in Montreal later this year, needs to work in tandem with the Paris Agreement

Moves are afoot to check aircraft pollution. (Photo by D. Sleeter)

Moves are afoot to check aircraft pollution. (Photo by D. Sleeter)

India and the United States have come a long way in the past two years on climate issues. Climate action has become the new and stronger pillar of both of the countries’ diplomacy. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Washington in June, it was further established as both nations vowed to resolve and cooperate on plethora of issues such as phasing out of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), strengthening the International Solar Alliance, clean energy financing and ratification of Paris agreement.

One less-highlighted issue that managed to find a place in India-US joint statement was emissions due to international aviation. It promised “to work together at the upcoming International Civil Aviation Organisation Assembly (ICAO) to reach a successful outcome to address greenhouse gas emissions from international aviation”.

The historic climate deal clinched last year in Paris is cheered upon from most quarters. The Paris Agreement to limit temperature rise to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels can only be realised if the carbon budget is used judiciously by all countries and sectors.

To control carbon emissions, while most countries did submit INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) last year, one sector that did not find place in these documents is the international transport sector due to the domestic nature of INDCs. International aviation and maritime transport contributed 1.3% and 2.2%, respectively to global CO2 emissions in 2012. Together, international and domestic civil aviation and marine transport accounted for 4.2% of global CO2 emissions, which translates to just 0.7% contribution of emissions due to domestic aviation and marine transport.

Alarming projections

These numbers are already worrisome. What is more alarming is the projected increase in the emissions of this sector. One study estimated that these emissions could be somewhere between 10% and 32% of the total “allowable” carbon budget by 2050 if no further reduction efforts were undertaken.

The strong international character of emissions of these sectors warrant immediate attention if the world has to stay well within the 2°C limit. While marine transport will still take some time to reach a consensus on the future roadmap for emission cuts, international aviation is staring at a deal when different states meet at the 39th session of ICAO later this year in Montreal.

Developing economies, and especially India, which just released its civil aviation policy, has a thriving aviation sector, which will grow strongly in the coming years. These countries need to chalk out a path which will not only give development space to their operators but also do it in an environmentally sustainable way.

What is on the table? Governments agreed at ICAO in 2010 to cap net emissions from the sector at 2020 levels and to improve fuel efficiency by 2% per year. A basket of measures is proposed, including improvement in aircraft technologies (global CO2 standard for aircrafts), operational improvements, more investment in developing sustainable and alternative fuels and increased use of the same, and a global carbon offsetting scheme for international aviation, also known as the global market-based measure (GMBM) scheme.

There is no consensus yet on restraining aviation emissions. (Photo by Pieter van Marion)

There is no consensus yet on restraining aviation emissions. (Photo by Pieter van Marion)

GMBM is required because non-market based efforts such as alternative fuels, global CO2 standard, etc., are unlikely to be sufficient to meet the target of carbon neutral growth from 2020 onwards, as the projected increase in air traffic will outpace the improvement in fuel efficiency. The design of GMBM will be dictated by two basic principles adopted in the Chicago Convention of 1944 — special circumstances and respective capabilities of states and non-discrimination between aircraft operators.

Specific provisions in GMBM include 100% sectoral approach, criteria for phased implementation post-2020 and eligible emissions units for offsetting facility, robust monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) frameworks, cost safeguards etc. There was a high-level meeting of all states in May this year to discuss and iron out the differences on the draft provisions. As expected, no consensus emerged. While the negotiations happened behind closed doors (a hallmark of many multilateral negotiations), a few countries did submit their revised drafts on the proposal.

The United States opposed the 100% sectoral approach, which states that a single total growth factor in emissions of international aviation (on a 2020 base) would be applied to all the operators, irrespective of their own growth in emissions. This provision along with delayed entry of low-emission states, in a phased implementation, provides for developing economies’ operators to take a lower growth factor as they are projected to increase at a greater rate than the global average, in line with respective capabilities of states.

The Chinese proposed a tweaked and delayed phased implementation to 2025, instead of 2020. China proposed a process similar to the INDCs for the period 2021-25. But the involuntarily nature of these commitments, unlike the INDCs in the Paris Agreement, is very strongly opposed by Russia.

The European Union, claiming to be a climate leader, strongly defended the proposal, saying that the INDC type of mechanism does not guarantee that the objective of a carbon neutral growth trajectory after 2020 would be met. It also asked for the cost safeguard provision to be stuck down and instead suggested that such actions could be considered at the time of the triennial review included in ICAO’s proposal. The cost safeguard provision is for dismantling the scheme if the cost of carbon increased substantially in future. The United States also raised some concerns about the definition of international aviation.

Not ambitious enough

But this proposal lacks ambition. It does not mention a ratchet mechanism, as the Paris Agreement does. On the contrary, it talks of reducing the support if non-market based measures helped to achieve the target. The proposal also needs to put more emphasis on non-market based measures, such as scaling up the use of bio-fuels and a stringent global CO2 standard, and not the one ICAO just passed this year.

This new standard requires new large aircraft types applying for certification on or after 2020 to have fuel efficiency at what is known as stringency level 8.5 (the potential stringency levels ranged from 1 to 10 in increasing impact). For in-production aircraft, stringency has been set at level 7 from 2028 onwards. Current new, large in-production aircraft types, with first deliveries between 2014 and 2020, already pass stringency levels 8 and 9 and some even reach 10.

In the initial proposal, EU said that the deadline to phase out inefficient in-production aircrafts should be kept at 2023 but a consensus emerged after six years of hard talks, primarily between the European Union and the United States. The deadline was kept at 2028 in the final negotiations. Who wanted a delay till 2028? The United States appears to be the main suspect, since many deliveries of Boeing aircrafts are scheduled after 2023 and would not have satisfied stringency level 7. Moreover, there is no mention of phasing out of current fleet, which will remain as it is, operating at much lower stringency levels.

Way forward

What is the way forward? ICAO is looking to adopt the proposal with few changes if that would help it deliver its promise of carbon-neutral growth of international aviation post-2020. It knows that failure this year could again trigger emissions control requirements under the EU ETS (Emissions Trading System) from 2017.

These requirements have been in suspension for all international flights from and to the European Economic Area (EEA) since late 2012. This development, if it happens, will strongly undermine the credibility of ICAO to be able to come out with a multilaterally agreed outcome on emissions due to international aviation.

Developing countries need to actively push for emphasis on non-market based measures, such as access to sustainable fuels and an improved CO2 standard when they go to the next meeting. Alternatively, India could push for inclusion of these standards for a triennial review proposed in the draft. India can firmly establish itself as a climate leader and ride on the momentum generated by the Paris Agreement.

A successful outcome on the emissions due to international aviation in Montreal later this year becomes more crucial in the light of current developments. At a time when tensions are on the rise all over the world and more and more countries are becoming more nationalist (for example, Brexit), a global deal in Montreal will go a long way in restoring faith in the kind of global coordination that is needed to face various modern challenges, not only the environmental crisis that the world is facing.

Manu Aggarwal is a researcher at the Council on Energy, Environment and Water, a policy research institution based in New Delhi.

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