Global airline climate deal reached at UN despite dissent

A plane comes in for landing at Fort Lauderdale, in Florida.
A plane comes in for landing at Fort Lauderdale, in Florida. PHOTO: AFP

MONTREAL (REUTERS) – The world’s first aviation pollution agreement was approved by the United Nations agency that oversees the industry on Thursday (Oct 6) after six years of negotiations, despite concerns the final deal does not do enough to curb emissions on international flights.

The International Civil Aviation Organisation’s global carbon offseting system, the first such scheme for a single industry, is expected to slow the growth of emissions from commercial flights, costing airlines less than 2 per cent of revenues.

The system will be voluntary from 2021 to 2026 and mandatory from 2027 for states with larger aviation industries. Airlines will have to buy carbon credits to offset growth in emissions.

The ICAO scheme was a compromise between developed nations, responsible for most greenhouse gas emissions in the past, and emerging and developing countries that fear tight regulation could curb growth.

Russia and India have said they will not participate in the voluntary phase, reiterating on Thursday that the deal puts an unfair burden on emerging countries. China has said it plans to join the voluntary phase.

Brazil, which had previously expressed concerns, voiced support for the deal, but it was not immediately clear whether it would participate in the voluntary phase.

The International Council on Clean Transportation estimated on Thursday that the agreement would require airlines to offset about three-quarters of growth after 2021, or about one-quarter of total international traffic.

Because of the voluntary phase and exceptions protecting smaller markets, environmental groups argued the scheme would not meet the agency’s goal of ensuring growth is carbon neutral after 2020.

“This agreement is a timid step in the right direction when we need to be sprinting,” said Greenpeace UK chief scientist Doug Parr in a statement.

Airlines lobbied for a global agreement using offsets in the hopes of avoiding a patchwork of national and regional deals that could be costly to comply with and difficult to adhere to.

Some environmental groups, however, were critical of the deal’s reliance on carbon offsets.

“Taking a plane is the fastest and cheapest way to fry the planet and this deal won’t reduce demand for jet fuel one drop. Instead, offsetting aims to cut emissions in other industries,” said Transport and Environment director Bill Hemmings.

An assembly of ICAO’s 191 member states met and approved the deal, which will apply to international passenger and cargo flights, and business jets that generate more than 10,000 tonnes of emissions annually.

Aviation was excluded from the Paris climate accord, though aviation produces about 2 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, an amount larger than produced by some industrialised nations.

Previous negotiations came close to provoking a trade war ahead of the 2013 ICAO assembly as the European Union, which was frustrated with slow progress, ordered foreign airlines to buy credits under its scheme. China and other countries said that violated their sovereignty.

On Thursday, the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, praised the deal.

“European solidarity and perseverance has delivered,” said Commissioner for Transport Violeta Bulc in a statement.