Time to set aviation on a flightpath to tackle climate change

International aviation emissions growth out to 2050 © WWF-UK / Made Noise

In December 2015, the Paris Agreement on climate change saw developed and developing countries alike agree to keep global warming “well below” 2°C, and to “pursue efforts” to limit the increase to 1.5°C.

The 1.5°C goal keeps climate stability within reach. It reduces risks to those countries threatened by sea-level rise and increased severe weather that will accompany even 2°C of warming. Achieving the 1.5°C goal will require greater efforts to reduce emissions across the entire global economy.

Carbon emissions from the global aviation sector are already bigger than those of the UK, and growing fast.

If left unchecked, international aviation could eat up over a fifth of the world’s entire carbon budget by 2050.

It’s not just carbon that’s the problem either – emissions of sulphur and nitrogen oxides at altitude cause clouds to form that further increase the global warming impact of flying.

But this major industry – international aviation –  has been largely left out of global efforts to tackle climate change.

We have a chance to change that this autumn, when the UN aviation agency ICAO will seek global agreement on a market-based measure (MBM) to make international airlines start paying for their CO2 emissions.

So far, efforts within ICAO to develop climate solutions have been conducted in near-total secrecy. Civil society groups have long been pushing for greater transparency in ICAO, so it’s good to see that ICAO has finally published its draft Assembly Resolution text.

Hopefully this means that all countries and stakeholders can now have an open and well-informed discussion about the proposals.

The key issue for the ICAO Assembly in Montreal this autumn is how to share out emissions targets between countries, recognising that developed countries (and their airlines) should take the lead in reducing emissions.

ICAO needs to make sure that developing countries, especially those not directly engaged in the MBM (Market Based Mechanism) process, have the information they need to figure out if the deal is fair for them or not.

Above all, the ICAO Assembly Agreement needs to make two things clear.

Firstly, that offsetting CO2 emissions above 2020 levels is only a first step for the aviation sector. Stronger targets and in-sector reductions will also be needed to put aviation on a truly sustainable flightpath. The current text only includes downward-facing language around price controls and winding-up the MBM if the sector over-achieves – what it needs is upward-facing language charting a course towards a fair share from aviation towards the 1.5°C goal.There are many other issues at stake too.

Secondly, ICAO must send a clear signal that airlines will only be allowed to claim emissions reductions from carbon credits and biofuels if they achieve real emissions reductions, while promoting sustainable development. Dodgy offsets and bad biofuels must not be allowed in. On this point the current text is ambiguous.

Read the original article on WWF’s website here.


Travindy is an independent website featuring news and opinion on all issues to do with tourism and sustainability. Written primarily for an industry audience, our aim is to support the transformation of the sector into one that is regenerative, restorative and fully inclusive.

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