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Aviation sector to vote on climate change plan

Wednesday, September 28, 2016 - 07:16

[MONTREAL] Civil aviation officials were expected to endorse a proposal that would have airlines buy credits to offset rising carbon emissions, at a 10-day meeting that opens in Montreal Tuesday.

The 191 member nations of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) were scheduled to vote on this and other proposals at their triennial meeting.

The head of the UN agency, Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu, outlined at its kickoff the challenge facing the industry: reduce emissions while the number of air passengers doubles to six billion in the next 15 years.

Air transport must be "more responsible in the interest of all humanity," said Canadian Transportation Minister and former astronaut Marc Garneau, calling for "carbon neutral growth."

ICAO delegates are tackling the environment alongside a wide range of topics on the agenda, at the same time that their countries are ratifying last year's Paris climate agreement.

Although the aviation sector was exempted in the December 2015 accord on reducing greenhouse gas emissions linked to global warming, aviation officials are mindful of the need to curb the sector's growing CO2 emissions, according to a diplomat.

At the ICAO general assembly, member states are to vote on a climate scheme designed and refined through intense negotiations over the last six years, called the Carbon Offset and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA).

Its goal is to cap airline CO2 emissions by 2035 at 2019 or 2020 levels.

This would be the "first global agreement on capping a single sector's climate impact," according to the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG), which represents airlines, airports, and airplane manufacturers.

Its target for reducing emissions is ambitious given that the number of flights worldwide are forecast to increase significantly over the coming decades.

But ICAO believes it can be reached through the purchase of credits to offset the sector's CO2 emissions, route optimization, and greater use of more fuel-efficient engines and lighter aircraft materials.

The use of biofuels in aircraft would also have a tremendous impact. "If commercial aviation replaced six per cent of the fuel it uses with alternative fuels, they would reduce their carbon footprint by five per cent," ATAG said.

The timeline starts with a voluntary first phase in 2021 and full rollout in 2027.

But proponents say a stepped approach is necessary in order to evaluate the scheme's effectiveness.

So far, 58 countries, including all European nations, the United States, China, Japan, Canada and the United Arab Emirates, have signed up for the first phase.

In 2022, the first "pilot" phase will be reviewed to determine its effectiveness, and any tweaks to the programme will be applied before proceeding to the next phase.

In the next phase, which runs from 2024 to 2026 and is also voluntary, participating airlines will trade carbon credits with competitors flying the same routes.

For example, a French or German airline will be able to trade carbon credits for flights to Canada or Japan with Canadian or Japanese firms, but not with airlines from countries not participating in this phase of the scheme.

Finally, between 2027 and 2035, the programme will be expanded to include nearly all nations, with exceptions made for the least developed countries, small island states and countries with a small volume of international air travel.

At the meeting, the ICAO will also decide on binding new aircraft standards for models launched after 2020.

AFP