December 26, 2012

Delegates to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) High Level Group on Climate Change are once again consulting their governments after a recent two-day meeting in Montreal. That gathering was the first of its kind aimed at providing the international aviation body with guidance necessary to move ahead on a global plan to curb aircraft emissions. At the same time, also in Montreal, the International Business Aviation Council (IBAC) was holding a meeting of its own, and declared that the voice of business aviation would be heard loud and clear on whatever global system is developed to mitigate aircraft emissions.

How Would Market-Based Measures Work?

No immediate drive for solutions that would lead to the creation of market-based measures (MBM) similar to the European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme (EU-ETS) resulted from the ICAO meeting, because substantial differences on a wide range of issues remain among the 17 participating nations – differences that observers said must be overcome before the ICAO General Assembly in October 2013.

“The Secretariat teed up discussions on how an MBM framework would apply,” said IBAC Director General Kurt Edwards. For instance, he said, how would a global MBM framework allow countries or regions to apply a measure to international aviation? Would measures be applied to all departures from a country, to all flights within a country’s airspace, or to all flights by aircraft registered in a country? Should revenues be collected? By whom? How would they be spent? By whom?

“There was a lot of discussion,” Edwards said. “At the end, the delegates went home to consult with their governments.”

The High Level Group will meet again late next month.

Conflicting UN Concepts

“There’s no clear picture of what success will look like,” said Edwards.

That is because, at the heart of ICAO’s long-running struggle with implementation of a program to reduce aviation’s carbon footprint, there is a conflict between two United Nations initiatives: The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation.

“There are a number of states that believe, under the Kyoto Protocol [which is part of the UNFCCC], they are exempt from having to participate in these types of measures,” said Edwards. Those nations cite the concept of “common but differentiated responsibilities” as spelled out in the Kyoto document and are now referred to by ICAO as “special circumstances and respective capabilities of states.”

However, the concept of non-discrimination among operators from different countries is a central principle of the Chicago Convention, the treaty on which the rules of the global aviation system are based.

“Those two concepts have been the basis for a lot of clashes within ICAO over the past five to seven years,” Edwards explained. While a resolution of that conflict may not be a necessary first step toward reducing aviation’s carbon footprint, Edwards said it is important in deciding both the geographic scope of such a solution and determining which countries’ operators will participate.

Business Aviation Will Be Part of the Discussion

As the ICAO High Level Group met, IBAC conducted meetings of its own nearby and determined that no policy on aviation-emissions reduction would be undertaken absent the voice of business aviation. As the representative body for business aviation associations worldwide, including NBAA as one of its founding members, IBAC provides regulatory advocacy for business aviation operators on the global stage.

“As [the ICAO High Level Group] goes forward, business aviation needs to be very much involved in the conversation to make sure that the measures that end up being adopted can be applied fairly, reasonably and proportionately,” Edwards said.

Citing business aviation’s experience with EU-ETS as “administratively burdensome,” Edwards said IBAC is moving toward adoption of a position that any MBM framework approved by ICAO be “simple, predictable and manageable, taking into account the different scale of activity undertaken by business operators compared to that of commercial air transport.”

Edwards hopes that IBAC will be able to adopt its final recommendations at its next meeting in January.

“There was a lot of enthusiasm for developing something that is timely, and that we can share with governments around the world, that will help shape the ICAO framework. We want to be sure that business aviation is heard in this process,” he said.