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Environment & Energy Report

U.N. Aviation Body Could Move to Supplant EU Over Climate Action

Sept. 24, 2019, 8:01 AM

A United Nations aviation body could derail an expansion of Europe’s climate change plan for airplanes during a meeting of 193 countries in Montreal, attendees said.

The International Civil Aviation Organization, or ICAO, a global body that sets standards for international commercial flights, is opening its triennial assembly Sept. 24. On the agenda are efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions from aviation.

In meetings scheduled to run through Oct. 4, the assembly will set the direction for ICAO’s work over the next three years. One of the environmental issues it will tackle will be the scope of the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation, or CORSIA, which aims to curb carbon emissions from all international flights beginning in 2021.

A working paper by a group of countries on an ICAO decision-making body suggests that member states declare CORSIA the only market-based measure applying to carbon dioxide emissions from international aviation, to avoid duplication.

The proposal would threaten the European Union’s existing airplane emissions trading scheme, which is more stringent and more costly to commercial air operators than CORSIA would likely be, said Andrew Murphy, aviation manager at Brussels-based environmental group Transport & Environment.

The EU’s plan has been covering most flights within Europe since 2012, and also requires airlines to buy allowances covering a certain level of emissions.

The EU would like the flexibility to strengthen the emissions trading system for intra-EU emissions if it deems CORSIA’s final version covering global air travel to be weak, said Brad Schallert, deputy director of international climate cooperation at the World Wildlife Fund in Washington.

CORSIA Pilot Phase in 2021

CORSIA, the details of which are still being fine-tuned by a technical body of the ICAO, would require all participating airlines to buy credits to offset their emissions so that their activities between 2020 and 2035 can be considered carbon neutral.

A pilot phase begins on Jan. 1, 2021, and becomes mandatory in 2027. Eighty-one member states, representing 77% of global flights—including the U.S.—plan to participate in the pilot as of July, ICAO says.

The International Air Transport Association, a trade group representing 290 airlines, has always argued there should be a single global market measure for aviation carbon emissions, spokesperson Chris Goater wrote in an email Sept. 19.

Airline companies have made major headway at boosting fuel efficiency in recent decades, but the industry’s growth has meant overall emissions are still on the rise.

2.4% of Global Emissions

Commercial flights produced 918 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, a major contributor to global warming, in 2018, about 2.4% of the global total, the International Council on Clean Transportation found in a working paper published Sept. 19.

The figure represents a 32% increase over the past five years, the council found.

The working paper that recommends that CORSIA be the only global market-based system to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from aviation was submitted by the ICAO’s council, a smaller decision-making body of 36 countries that carries out the direction of the assembly.

Anything submitted by the council is always done on behalf of all 36 states, ICAO spokesperson Anthony Philbin wrote in an email Sept. 20.

The assembly is also likely to discuss other crucial environmental issues, like plans to expand the use of sustainable fuels, which the airline industry says could reduce emissions by 80%, and the reintroduction of commercial supersonic jets, according to working papers on the ICAO’s site.

To contact the reporter on this story: James Munson in Toronto at correspondents@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Renee Schoof at rschoof@bloombergenvironment.com; Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloombergenvironment.com