Allowing such a large number of countries to essentially ignore the first round of carbon-cutting measures sets up a dangerous precedent for when an industry-wide standard is introduced in 2020. Critics may be addressing a critical policy weakness or just trying to buy time.
The United States supports a proposed market-based system to curb carbon emissions from the global aviation sector starting in 2020, but warned that concerns over measures to lower emissions in the interim threaten to undercut the broadly-supported goal, a U.S. official said.
Negotiators from over 190 countries gathered at the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization‘s triennial assembly in Montreal will on Thursday to go over the details from a proposal to curb reduce greenhouse emissions from the aviation industry as agreed by ICAO’s 36-member governing council earlier this month.
Many countries have expressed support for a global market-based measure to reduce airline emissions, the details of which would be decided in 2016 for a proposed 2020 launch.
As a result, aviation could become the first major industry sector to launch a global market system to curb carbon emissions.
Yet some countries are wary of a section of the plan that addresses how interim national and regional measures that charge foreign air carriers for their emissions would operate until 2020.
The United States’ delegation has said it supports countries and regions which want to have interim regulations in place before a global mechanism is created, but only if they limit charges to their respective airspace.
It is concerned, however, that the proposed resolution that would exempt a large number of countries from complying with those interim measures. Under the current wording, around 160 of 191 ICAO states would be exempt.
“Throughout this process, the U.S. government and the U.S. airline industry have strongly supported ICAO efforts to develop a global market-based measure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That position has not changed,” a U.S. official told Reuters.
“While we support the concept of de minimis exemptions, the current approach raises serious concerns for the United States,” the official added.
Poorer countries, however, would require an exemption from any interim measures in exchange for supporting the resolution, said Englebert Zoa Etubani, Cameroon’s representative to ICAO, who represents the African bloc of negotiators.
The measure would protect African air passengers and its burgeoning airline industry and the bloc supports the proposal as it is currently worded, he said.
The European Union, currently the only region that has a market-based system to charge fees on emissions that would apply to foreign air carriers, said that any changes to the current proposal could unravel “a very delicate balance that has the support of the majority of ICAO.”
From the aviation industry’s perspective, allowing exemptions – even on interim measures – could set a concerning precedent.
“If such a large set of countries can get a blanket exception on market-based measures, we are concerned that this could be a slippery slope to requests for exemption on other taxes and charges, and even safety and/or security measures,” said Nancy Young, vice president for environmental affairs for Airlines for America, the U.S. airlines’ lobby group.
Some industry representatives are also concerned that if so many countries are exempt now, they will seek to protect their exemptions if a global scheme starts up in 2020.
Environmental groups said there is wide support for a global deal after years of tough negotiations and warned that concerns over just a few provisions should not stop wider progress.
Annie Petsonk, international counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund, said the goal is to launch the global emissions cap process and deliver it by 2016.
“We are at a crucial moment in the history of ICAO’s efforts to tackle the climate issue. The credibility of this institution and of the governments who lead it – including the U.S. and the EU – is on the line,” Petsonk said.
Reporting by Valerie Volcovici. Editing by Ros Krasny and G Crosse.
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Photo credit: A plane en route to Cuba takes off from Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport, June 24, 2013. Sergei Karpukhin / Reuters