U.N. agree­ment reached on air­craft cli­mate-change emis­sions

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - MARKETPLACE - By Joan Lowy

The United Na­tions’ avi­a­tion arm over­whelm­ingly rat­i­fied an agree­ment Thurs­day to con­trol global warm­ing emis­sions from in­ter­na­tional air­line flights, the first cli­mate-change pact to set world­wide lim­its on a sin­gle in­dus­try.

The agree­ment, adopted over­whelm­ingly by the 191-na­tion In­ter­na­tional Civil Avi­a­tion Or­ga­ni­za­tion at a meet­ing in Mon­treal, sets air­lines’ car­bon emis­sions in the year 2020 as the up­per limit of what car­ri­ers are al­lowed to dis­charge. Air­lines that ex­ceed that limit in fu­ture years, as most are ex­pected to do, will have to off­set their emis­sions growth by buy­ing cred­its from other in­dus­tries and pro­jects that limit green­house gas emis­sions.

Coun­tries must still act on their own to put the agree­ment’s lim­its into ef­fect. Adop­tion of the avi­a­tion agree­ment comes one day after the num­ber of coun­tries sign­ing onto a land­mark cli­mate-change ac­cord reached in Paris last De­cem­ber passed the thresh­old for im­ple­ment­ing the ac­cord.

Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry called the avi­a­tion agree­ment “un­prece­dented” and said it builds on more than a decade of work by the U.S. and other na­tions to re­duce air­craft emis­sions.

“It is an­other sig­nif­i­cant step in the global move­ment to take am­bi­tious ac­tion to ad­dress cli­mate change ex­em­pli­fied by yes­ter­day’s ac­tion to cross the thresh­old for the Paris Agree­ment to en­ter into force,” he said in a state­ment.

The first phase of the air­line agree­ment, which is vol­un­tary, cov­ers 2021 to 2027. Par­tic­i­pa­tion be­comes manda­tory from 2028 through 2035. Some coun­tries were still try­ing to de­cide whether to par­tic­i­pate in the vol­un­tary phase.

Full com­pli­ance with the 15-year agree­ment would the re­duce car­bon that would oth­er­wise be emit­ted by 2.5 bil­lion tons, ac­cord­ing to an En­vi­ron­men­tal De­fense Fund cal­cu­la­tion. That’s roughly equiv­a­lent to tak­ing 35 mil­lion cars off the road ev­ery year for the life of the agree­ment.

So far, 65 coun­tries, in­clud­ing the United States and China, have in­di­cated they will par­tic­i­pate. That in­cludes the Euro­pean Union’s 44-na­tion avi­a­tion con­fer­ence. How­ever, Rus­sia doesn’t cur­rently plan to par­tic­i­pate in the vol­un­tary phase, and In­dia ex­pressed reser­va­tions with por­tions of the pact.

The agree­ment has the back­ing of the air­line in­dus­try even though it could cost an es­ti­mated $5.3 bil­lion to $23.9 bil­lion a year by 2035. Air­lines spent $181 bil­lion on fuel last year.

Air­lines that keep their emis­sions down through more fuel ef­fi­cient planes and air­craft op­er­a­tions will spend less on car­bon cred­its. But since avi­a­tion is grow­ing rapidly, emis­sions growth is ex­pected to far out­strip in­creased ef­fi­cien­cies.

The deal ap­plies only to in­ter­na­tional flights, which ac­count for about 60 per­cent of avi­a­tion. Emis­sions from do­mes­tic air­line flights fall un­der the Paris ac­cord, which goes into ef­fect next month. That ac­cord com­mits rich and poor coun­tries to take ac­tion to curb the rise in global tem­per­a­tures that is melt­ing glaciers, rais­ing sea lev­els and shift­ing rain­fall pat­terns. Govern­ments must present na­tional plans to re­duce emis­sions to limit global tem­per­a­ture rise less than 2 de­grees Cel­sius (3.6 de­grees Fahren­heit).

Air­lines that fly in­ter­na­tion­ally were left out of the Paris ac­cord be­cause they protested that it would mean deal­ing with a patch­work of coun­try-by-coun­try reg­u­la­tions.

“This agree­ment en­sures that the avi­a­tion in­dus­try’s eco­nomic and so­cial con­tri­bu­tions are matched with cut­ting-edge ef­forts on sus­tain­abil­ity,” said Alexan­dre de Ju­niac, direc­tor gen­eral of the In­ter­na­tional Air Trans­port As­so­ci­a­tion, a global air­line trade as­so­ci­a­tion.

A last minute change to the avi­a­tion emis­sions agree­ment stripped out lan­guage that would have aligned the agree­ment with the goal of keep­ing global warm­ing below a 2 de­gree rise.

“This deal was the world’s first op­por­tu­nity to test whether the new Paris Agree­ment would change the way we do busi­ness and rally the world to­ward its new goals. Yet just hours after cel­e­brat­ing the Paris Agree­ment’s early en­try into force, coun­tries at ICAO are send­ing mixed sig­nals about their am­bi­tion to re­duce emis­sions by weak­en­ing the link be­tween the avi­a­tion mech­a­nism and the long-term goals set in Paris,” said Lou Leonard, the World Wildlife Fund’s se­nior vice pres­i­dent for cli­mate and en­ergy.

The In­ter­na­tional Coun­cil for Clean Trans­porta­tion said its anal­y­sis shows the agree­ment will off­set only about three-quar­ters of the growth in emis­sions from in­ter­na­tional avi­a­tion above 2020 lev­els.

Avi­a­tion ac­counts for less than 2 per­cent of the world’s car­bon emis­sions. That may seem small, but if avi­a­tion were a coun­try it would be the world’s sev­enth largest car­bon emit­ter — larger than Canada or South Korea, but not as big as Ger­many. By the mid­dle of the cen­tury, avi­a­tion emis­sions are ex­pected to triple what they were in 2005.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Air­plane con­trails are re­flected in a build­ing as they cross the early morn­ing sky above Penn­syl­va­nia Av­enue in Wash­ing­ton.

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