ICAO agrees on the first measure ever to tackle global aviation emissions

At the 39th Assembly of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), Parties have settled an agreement to establish a global market-based measure (GMBM) in order to offset CO2 emissions from the international aviation sector.

According to ICAO, the GMBM will start from 2021 on with a pilot phase until 2023. In the following, there will be a voluntary first phase until 2026. From 2027 on, the measure will be mandatory for all States, with some examptions, such as for least developed countries, small island developing states, landlocked developing countries and states with very low levels of international aviation activity.

The GMBM foresees that greenhouse gas emissions from international aviation will not be avoided directly but they will be offset, as for example through reforestation activities. According to the Guardian, this decision has raised some criticism as it does not set an actual cap on emissions. Moreover, so far no concrete rules for offsetting have been agreed. However, the ICAO agreement includes a review period every three years that might help strengthen the efforts. In addition, the GMBM complements further actions targeted to improve the technical performance of airplanes and to advance sustainable alternative fuels for aviation.

So far, 65 states accounting for more than 80 percent of international aviation emissions have announced to participate in the GMBM from the earliest stage in 2021 on, according to Reuters. These countries count inter alia the US, China, European States but also developing countries vulnerable to climate change such as the Marshall Islands. In addition, countries with major airport locations such as Singapore, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar have announced their willingness to join.

In contrast, countries like Russia and India will not participate in the voluntary phases. Brazil is still undecided. It is expected that the GMBM will induce costs equal to 2 percent of the aviation industry’s annual revenues, according to the Guardian.

A previous draft of the agreement comprised a commitment of ICAO of carbon neutral growth by 2020 and align its targets with the Paris climate deal, which has recently crossed the thresholds for entry into force. However, these provisions were dropped in the final hours of the negotiations, BBC reports.

The deal was struck after tense negotiations during the last years. So far, emissions from the international aviation and shipping sector were excluded from any reduction targets. However, emissions from international aviation are as much as Germany’s annual output and predicted to grow over the next years and decades. Emissions from this sector are projected to consume more than a quarter of the remaining carbon budget for the 1.5°C goal by 2050, according to BBC.



(Image: Air China B-2471 takeoff SFO runway 28R. Photo credit: dsleeter_2000 on Flickr)