Aviation emissions must be capped, experts warn

Carbon pollution from aircraft is forecast to triple by 2050
Carbon pollution from aircraft is forecast to triple by 2050

Ahead of a landmark meeting to decide the future of the aviation industry’s global environmental policy, industry experts have reiterated the importance of a cap on the industry’s carbon emissions.

The UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) will hold its General Assembly from 27 September to 7 October 2016, where the main topic on the agenda will be the implementation of a new “market-based measure” for airline emissions.

And the consequences of failing to reach an agreement could be severe, according to some leading environmental figures, with carbon pollution levels from commercial aircraft forecast to triple by 2050.

“Aviation emissions must be capped and cut. We rightly celebrated after the Paris agreement (signed in April 2016 under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change), but this is major unfinished business,” said Pamela Campos, senior attorney at Environmental Defense Fund and editor of Carbon & Climate Law Review’s (CCLR) edition on aviation and climate change.

“This fall’s ICAO Assembly is a critical moment for countries, and the aviation industry, to demonstrate leadership in providing international air travel while reducing risks to the climate. These articles illustrate the need for and feasibility of a strong market-based measure.”

The ICAO General Assembly starts on 27 September
The ICAO General Assembly starts on 27 September

If it can agree a market-based measure to limit emissions from international flights, aviation would become the first global sector to do so.

But reaching a global consensus is unlikely to be simple; the issue is divisive, and the European Commission’s attempts to unilaterally impose emissions caps under its ETS scheme previously met with fierce opposition from countries including the US, China and India.

According to the CCLR, it is not only aviation CO2 emissions that are the problem. The industry’s “total global warming impacts” are said to be more than double those of its CO2 emissions, with nitrogen oxide emissions and aviation’s impacts on clouds both adding “significantly” to the warming effect.

In the preface of the CCLR issue, Judith Ritchie, First Secretary of Transport Policy at the British Embassy in Washington DC from 2009-2014, warned ICAO that it “risks undermining its credibility” if it fails to come to a consensus.

“Failure to reach agreement would represent a very real step backwards for an industry that has always been at the forefront of initiative and endeavour,” Ms Ritchie added.

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