The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) committed in a resolution adopted today (4 October) in Montreal to agree a global market-based mechanism to reduce aviation emissions at its next general assembly in 2016. The new mechanism would take effect in 2020.
However the European Union was defeated in its efforts to have ICAO recognise its right to continue charging aviation in its own market-based mechanism, the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).
In a stinging rebuke to the EU, the ICAO resolution contains a paragraph saying that no country can include another country's airlines in their ETS without a mutual agreement between the two.
The EU noted a reservation disagreeing with this section of the text. It is non-binding, as the EU has already justified the inclusion of foreign airlines on the basis of the 1947 Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation. However the EU wanted the right to include foreign airlines recognised in the ICAO text as a bulwark against Chinese and American airlines who have refused to comply.
Earlier this month the EU offered to exclude emissions emitted outside EU airspace from being covered by the ETS in exchange for a deal at ICAO. The resolution text, however, would suggest that even this is not sanctioned by the ICAO text, as any inclusion of foreign airlines would need mutual agreement. The US, which had backed the ‘airspace' approach of the EU's offer, pushed anyway for the resolution text which wouldn't' allow any inclusion of foreign airlines.
“ICAO is going even beyond what the Chicago Convention allows,” said Bill Hemmings of campaign group T&E from Montreal. “They're telling the EU what it can do in its own airspace.”
The ICAO countries voted 97 to 39 to include this provision against the EU ETS. Some ministers presented the outcome as a defeat of the EU by India, China, Russia and America. “We are happy that multilateralism has prevailed over unilateralism,” said T.S. Tirumurti, joint secretary at India's Ministry of External Affairs, told Bloomberg news agency.
A spokesperson for the Commission said the EU would have to consider its next steps. Any change to the ETS scope, whether to exclude non-EU airspace or to go further and exclude all foreign airlines, would need approval from member states and the European Parliament.
The European aviation industry would likely fiercely resist any move to exclude foreign airlines but leave them included, as it would raise competitiveness concerns.
John Hanlon, secretary general of the European Low Fares Airline Association, said the EU should not change the ETS legislation because its conditions for the offer have not been met by this resolution. "None of the EU red lines, spelt out unequivocally at the time of granting the 'stop the clock' derogation are met by the outcome of the General Assembly of ICAO," he said.
Peter Liese, the centre-right German MEP who leads on the issue in the Parliament, said he doubts the Parliament will approve a change in the ETS text as demanded by ICAO. “In my estimation, the European Parliament will not agree that until 2020 we only cover intra-European flights,” he said. “This is a matter of fairness against European airlines and their competitive situation and the environment.”
He also said that the final ICAO resolution was significantly weakened since the EU made its airspace offer. “We have no guarantee that the system will be introduced in 2020 and that the benefit for the environment is substantial.” But he added that even the weak ICAO text would not have been possible without EU pressure.
“The EU must now stand firm and stick by its original plans on aviation emissions,” said Finnish Green MEP Satu Hassi. “We should not dismantle effective climate policy instruments in exchange for a vague promise on a global scheme in the distant future.”
However Connie Hedegaard, EU commissioner for climate action, said the agreement to a future global deal is a victory for the EU, and would not have been possible without the offer for compromise. ''The EU's hard work has paid off. After so many years of talks, ICAO has finally agreed to the first-ever global deal to curb aviation emissions''