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Environment - Towards COP16

Despite the industry being lauded for its commitment to environmental mitigation by UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, Copenhagen failed to formalize a global aviation environmental policy. Progress at the next climate change meeting in Mexico will be all the more important as a result

Aviation wasn’t mentioned in the Copenhagen Accord released at the end of the 15th Conference of Parties (COP15) meeting in December 2009. Despite the industry taking a united position to the table, governments did not reach a formal decision.

Paul Steele, IATA’s Director, Aviation Environment, says positive and negative conclusions can be drawn from the outcome. “There was excellent feedback on our targets and the global sectoral approach, which stresses that the industry’s emissions should be accounted for at a global level and airlines are required to pay for them only once,” he says. “And importantly, ICAO’s role and ability were reaffirmed.”

The industry, it seemed, had put its own house in order. Some governments were looking at individual targets but garnered little support. And calls for an adaptation levy—essentially a global tax to help developing countries—also failed to hold sway.

But the lack of a specific mandate leaves aviation vulnerable. If there had been a formal policy statement and ICAO mandate at Copenhagen, it would have applied pressure to this September’s ICAO Assembly to ratify a global aviation framework. Now that Assembly must bring governments in line with industry targets if a solution is to be found at COP16, which will take place in December 2010 in Cancún, Mexico.
“In a sense, aviation’s own proactive measures were partly responsible for the lack of direction from the Copenhagen meetings” says Steele. “Still, it is disappointing that states did not embrace the industry’s robust goals.”

In a policy vacuum, aviation must be vigilant of what measures government may propose to fill the void. The Copenhagen Accord—which wasn’t the official outcome of COP15 but rather a side agreement—leaves the door open to the possibility of a patchwork quilt of regulations and targets.

Seeking transparency

Steele insists that the industry sees no need to change the targets or strategy presented to COP15. Nevertheless, the months leading up to COP16 will be busy ones. Countries may not have been able to agree on aviation, but they certainly haven’t forgotten about it.

The United Nations has established a high-level panel, led by the UK Prime Minister and the Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. Panelists on the Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing include such luminaries as George Soros. Its task is to recommend ways to fund climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies in developing countries.

Steele’s concern is the lack of transparency involved. Funding strategies may well involve the transportation sector, a favorite cash cow in such situations.

“Under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), money is seen as the only way to solve the problem of Common but Differentiated Responsibility (CBDR), which was the main stumbling block in reaching a formal agreement at Copenhagen,” says Steele. “In the context of ICAO, that’s not quite true though. ICAO has previously brokered very successful solutions to deliver global standards by using a basket of approaches including staggered implementation and technology transfer to support the needs of developing countries.”

Under the Kyoto Protocol, Annex 1 countries, basically the developed nations, were charged with responsibility for climate change mitigation. Developing countries were set no targets.

The zeitgeist means that attitude has changed. But developing countries argue that climate change strategies need funding. Annex 1 countries no longer have the money or desire to pay for this, and hence the formation of the Advisory Group to find sources for climate change funding. Its recommendations will be presented to COP16.

Industry participation

Aviation will have no direct input into the high-level panel, but it will play an important part in two other strands that lead to COP16. At the UNFCCC level, there will be at least two intersessional meetings in 2010.

One, which discussed ways to get a formal agreement back on track, has already taken place in Bonn, Germany. A second meeting will take place in June, also in Bonn. IATA participation at that meeting will ensure the industry voice is heard. 

There is also plenty of activity at the ICAO level. President Kobeh González has acknowledged that ICAO needs to move beyond the work of the previous High-Level Meeting on climate change. The only measurable objective it produced was an aspirational goal of an annual 2% increase in fuel efficiency
to 2050, which falls well short of the industry’s own targets. “ICAO needs to move states forward and help them match industry ambition,” says Steele. “At the moment, they are a long way behind.”

ICAO has set up an informal group of 18 countries, which includes the US, the UK, Brazil, Russia, India and China, to move ICAO resolutions forward. This group is tasked with formulating an aviation policy that could be signed off at the next ICAO Assembly and then taken to COP16.

The group met in Montreal in April and further meetings will take place in the run-up to the Assembly. Industry will be present at those meetings, a crucial improvement in the process. “Previously, at the Group on International Aviation and Climate Change (GIACC) meetings we only had the opportunity to present,” says Steele. “But now we have ongoing presence. It shows that the ICAO states understand that industry is ahead of the curve and can make an important contribution to the discussions.”

There are two working groups within this informal gathering. One is looking at goals that can be set by states, the other at market-based measures and the best method of implementation. Industry will contribute to both.

COP16 and beyond

The effort being put into COP16 is no guarantee of success. Already, Connie Hedegaard, the EU’s Climate Action Commissioner, has said reaching an agreement will be tough, and sights might be more realistically set on South Africa in 2011. Additionally, the US bill backing President Obama’s Copenhagen call for a domestic 17% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2020 (compared to 2005) seems certain to fail, meaning in the short term the country will be unlikely to agree any deal that stipulates reduction targets.
And while Copenhagen welcomed 128 Heads of State, Mexico is expected to be low key in comparison. It may lack the international standing to announce an agreement.

On the other hand, Mexico is probably in a better position to broker a deal than Denmark, which brought its own strong, European views to the table. And there does seem to be some movement on the CBDR problem, with the UK and other EU nations reportedly prepared to consider further emissions cuts—a key request of developing nations.

An unknown is how the new Secretary-General of UNFCCC, yet to be named, will affect the process. It is an important position and personality could be crucial to any outcome.

“Aviation fully accepts its environmental responsibility, and has worked hard to address this challenge,” concludes Steele. “It is the only industry with a clear framework and challenging targets in place. Now states must step up to the plate and progress climate change action.”


Forthcoming meetings

  • 31 May – 11 June, UNFCCC Intersessional, Bonn
  • 16 –17 September, ATAG Aviation and Environment Summit, Geneva
  • 28 September – 8 October, ICAO 37th Assembly, Montreal
  • 29 November – 10 December, UNFCCC COP16, Cancún

Additional information

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