Nations need to agree to reduce aviation emissions

Image courtesy International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)

The new Paris Agreement provides a broad global framework to strengthen efforts to address climate change. Now, governments are working toward another agreement on a critical issue Paris doesn’t directly address – reducing greenhouse gas emissions from aviation.

The Paris Agreement, negotiated under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), ties together national efforts pledged by more than 180 countries to limit or reduce their own emissions. However, international aviation is inherently a cross-border activity, and a global approach to reducing emissions from aviation is being negotiated separately under the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). A new sector-wide agreement is expected this October.

Emissions from the aviation sector comprised 2 percent of global emissions in 2013, but that share is set to expand rapidly by 2050 without policy interventions. In 2010, the aviation industry carried 2.4 billion passengers and 40 million metric tons of goods. By 2050, that could grow to 16 billion passengers and 400 million metric tons of goods.

If global aviation were a country, it would rank as the seventh largest carbon dioxide emitter. So reducing emissions from aviation is critical to meeting the global goal of limiting average temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius.

ICAO was established in 1947 to regulate civil aviation by establishing common standards on safety, pollution, technology, and other important issues. In 2010, governments adopted a goal put forward by the airline industry to achieve carbon neutrality from 2020 onwards – known as CNG2020. This means that, from 2020 onwards, net carbon emissions from international aviation would remain constant.

Negotiations are moving toward an agreement on how to achieve this target. The key challenge will be allocating obligations to individual countries. The Chicago Convention, which established ICAO, is based on the principle of uniform application (e.g., all nations must meet the same standards), which is in contrast to the concept of common but differentiated responsibilities familiar to those involved in the UNFCCC. It will be a challenge for negotiators to find a workable compromise that apportions obligations in a manner deemed fair by all nations.

To meet the CNG2020 goal, a number of policy options are available. Technology improvements in aircraft and engine design, operational efficiency gains, and investments in new infrastructure will all reduce emissions. Additionally, the development and possible use of biofuels would drive down emissions by reducing the jet fuels burned by aircraft.

However, in the face of continued aviation sector growth, industry believes that emission reductions occurring outside the sector must also be available to count toward the goal. At the 38th ICAO Assembly in 2013, member states agreed to develop a global market-based mechanism, allowing for offsetting aviation sector emissions. A task force has been deliberating the rules and eligibility criteria that would underpin this mechanism, and it is hoped that these rules will be adopted at the October ICAO Assembly and take effect from 2020.

2016 is an opportunity to continue the momentum of international cooperation on climate change, with aviation becoming the first sector to sign a binding international agreement to reduce its emissions. 

Electric vehicle consumers - beyond early adopters

Sales of electric vehicles (EVs) in the United States nearly doubled last year—and with consumer acceptance broadening, sticker prices dropping, new models on the way, and policy support growing, the outlook is even better for 2014.  

In 2013, EVs increased their market share by 70 percent from 2012 levels, while all-vehicle sales grew 8 percent to reach a six-year high. Still, EV sales continue to lag forecasts made when these cars hit the market in late 2010, accounting for less than 1 percent of new light-duty vehicle sales. The strong growth in vehicle sales is mostly due to rising sales of gas-guzzling pickup trucks.

Optimism for EV market expansion is warranted, however, not only due to steady sales growth but also due to three key developments in 2013.

Consumers and global climate will win with new vehicle standards

As early as this week, the federal government will announce what is likely the largest move ever to save oil. If last year’s proposal becomes final, as expected, the fuel economy of a typical new car will go up by more than 70 percent by 2025. The standards will improve how far cars and trucks travel on a gallon of gas even more than the original corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards, enacted by Congress in 1975.

The new passenger vehicle standards for fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions are also the single largest move by the federal government to address climate change. Three critical factors made this possible: consumer commitment, technological progress, and smart public policy.

Can ICAO Meet the Challenges of Responding to Climate Change?

A Senate Transportation Committee hearing tomorrow will be the latest show of ire against the European Union’s effort to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from international aviation through its mandatory Emission Trading System (EU ETS). From Beijing to Delhi to Washington, governments claim the EU’s unilateral move violates international aviation law.

Indeed, in Washington, this is one of the rare issues these days where Democrats and Republicans find themselves on the same side opposing the EU’s action. The Obama Administration has weighed in with a strongly worded letter from Secretaries Clinton and LaHood urging the EU to drop its unilateral efforts and to work through the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to reduce aviation sector emissions. 

But if tomorrow’s hearing before the Senate Transportation Committee is simply another round of EU-bashing, it will be a missed opportunity to focus on the one solution that virtually everybody (including the EU) appears to support—effective action by ICAO.  Frustrated by years of inaction within ICAO, the real motivation behind the EU’s move may be to reignite efforts to reach agreement within ICAO.

Join Us 3/20 at 1 pm ET for a Live Chat: Plugging Electric Vehicles into the U.S. Grid

While Americans bought nearly 18,000 PEVs last year, 2012 is the first full year when plug-in electric vehicles will be available nationwide. The long-term success of PEVs could bring some very real benefits to energy security, air quality, climate change, and economic growth.