Over the next three years, aviation would be facing its most
daunting legal challenge — of developing a proposal for a global marketbased measure (MBM) to address aircraft engine emissions through the
International Civil Aviation Organization. The issue of aviation and climate
change has been wrought with contention and discord among the 191 member
States of ICAO and the Organization failed to come up with any practical
suggestion for a global MBM at its 38th session of the Assembly in 2013, after
3 years of plodding through various meetings and deliberations with States
and International Organizations. This article addresses the legal and economic
issues involved and suggests some measures that ICAO might wish to take.
It is incontrovertible that climate change is the most compelling and contentious
issue facing international aviation.
The David Suzuki Foundation, in its official
website says that “for a relatively small industry, aviation has a disproportionately
large impact on the climate system. It presently accounts for 4–9% of the total
climate change impact of human activity”. A Report published by the Federation of
American Scientists for the Congressional Research Service in 2010 has stated that
aircraft are a significant source of greenhouse gases (GHGs) — compounds that
trap the sun’s heat, with effects on the Earth’s climate. In the United States, aircraft
of all kinds are estimated to emit between 2.6 and 3.4 per cent of the nation’s total GHG emissions, depending on whether one counts international air travel.
A Report titled “Predict and Decide”, published in 2006 by the Environmental
Change Institute, University of Oxford said: “There is increasing recognition that
aviation is a cause for concern in terms of its impact on climate. Yet, due to political
difficulties in agreeing responsibilities, the emissions from international aviation
(together with international shipping) were excluded from the Kyoto Protocol,
all related assessments. There is also a lack of clarity about how “bad” aviation is”.
As the specialized agency of the United Nations addressing issues of international
civil aviation, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)
active in the year 2013. With all its achievements of events planned and convened,
meetings held, and assistance rendered to States, ICAO’s greatest challenge was to
prepare for the 38th Session of the Assembly of its 191 membership a credible and
plausible framework for market-based measures (MBMs) that could be applicable
to aircraft engine emissions. At the end of the Assembly session in October 2013,
ICAO issued a statement saying: “ICAO’s States agreed to report back in 2016
with a proposal for a global MBM scheme capable of being implemented by 2020.
Major efforts will need to be undertaken in order to address the challenges and
accommodate specific concerns of developing States going forward”.
There is no doubt that ICAO’s role is daunting, as acknowledged by ICAO.
It has to balance several interests, both of developed States and developing States
in carving out the proposal. The Assembly resolved that the proposal should
be developed within the parameters of work carried out by States and relevant
Organizations through ICAO to achieve a global annual average fuel efficiency
improvement of 2 per cent until 2020 and an aspirational global fuel efficiency
improvement rate of 2 per cent per annum from 2021 to 2050, calculated on the
basis of volume of fuel used per revenue tonne kilometre (RTK) performed.
In 2013, at the 38th Session of the ICAO Assembly, things came to a head
in the international aviation community where more than 170 member States and
numerous international Organizations pledged to develop a global MBMs scheme at
the next session of the Assembly in 2016. Both ICAO and the international aviation
community had been kicking the can down the road for more than a decade. It was
time for concrete action.
Not many, and certainly no one that I know in the aviation industry, has talked
about anything other than the effects economic measures taken to counter the growing threat of climate change on the developmental progress of their country.
Often, the larger picture that portends the devastation climate change would bring
the world is shrouded in polemics on equity based on the right to development. This
trend has obfuscated the catastrophe facing mankind, not only in terms of rising sea
levels, skinny polar bears and parched wheat fields, but also in the threat to human
life as a result of an increasingly warming planet. The World Health Organization
has come up with the fact that, over the past 30 years, 150,000 people have died
annually as a result of global warming.
Yet, with all these revelations and incontrovertible facts, the debate on aircraft
engine emissions and what to do about them remain an exclusively economic issue
based on pollution as a by-product of development. This article addresses the
complexities, sensibilities and possibilities of developing a global MBM scheme.