Monthly Archives: July 2012

Senate committee approves short-sighted bill that could jeopardize action on airplane pollution

The U.S. Senate Commerce Committee today passed a bill that would allow the secretary of transportation  to ban airlines from complying with the only program in the world that sets enforceable limits on carbon pollution from aviation.

The U.S. Senate Commerce Committee voted in favor of a bill that would allow the transportation secretary to block airlines from complying with Europe's anti-pollution law for aviation.

The Senate bill (S.1956) would give the transportation secretary the authority to prohibit airlines from participating in the EU Emissions Trading System, if, after taking into account many different considerations, he determines that it is in the public interest to do so. Unlike the bill passed last year in the House of Representatives, this bill does not automatically prohibit U.S. airlines from participating in the EU system.

Countries, including the United States, along with airlines and environmental groups all agree aviation emissions should be addressed at the international level, through the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

However, countries have spent a decade and a half at the UN agency discussing — and failing to agree on — a program to cut carbon pollution.

EDF's International Counsel Annie Petsonk said in a statement after the vote today this Senate bill doesn't get the United States any closer to such a solution, and urged the Obama administration to step up its pressure on ICAO.

Passage of this disappointing and short-sighted bill today seems only to decrease the odds of action at the international level by calling into question the status of the one lever that actually moved ICAO to have serious discussions after 15 years of inaction – the EU Emissions Trading System.

This bill now ups the pressure on the Obama administration to produce a solution at ICAO. We are happy to see the text at least encouraged international negotiations at ICAO, which we believe hold the key to a global agreement to reduce aviation emissions.

Petsonk also said that only a couple times in history has U.S. legislation blocked companies from obeying another country's law.

Legislation that blocks American companies from obeying the laws of the countries in which they do business is almost unprecedented in U.S. history, showing up most recently when Congress barred American firms from suborning apartheid in South Africa.

How disconcerting that airlines, which are spending significant funds touting their environmental friendliness, are acting as though an anti-pollution law is as grievous as a massive human rights violation.

Amendment

An amendment to the bill says the secretary of transportation, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) administrator and other government officials:

should, as appropriate, use their authority to conduct international negotiations, including using their authority to conduct international negotiations to pursue a worldwide approach to address aircraft emissions;

Expressing skepticism of that "authority to conduct international negotiations to pursue a worldwide approach to address aircraft emissions," Petsonk told Reuters:

We've been in hot pursuit of this (an ICAO framework) for 15 years, so what makes the Senate think this is any different?

Up next, the bill's proponents will seek its quick passage on the Senate floor, either as a stand-alone bill or as an amendment to other legislation. Whether they succeed remains to be seen.

See also: Annie Petsonk's blog, Will Washington meeting on aviation pollution be undermined by U.S. airlines?

Posted in Aviation, News|: | 1 Response

Will Washington meeting on aviation pollution be undermined by U.S. airlines?

UPDATE | 9 p.m.

The U.S. State Department has released a transcript of a news conference held today during which a senior administration official says the starting point for this week's talks will be the International Civil Aviation Organization's (ICAO) 2010 resolution. In that resolution, countries set an “aspirational goal” of improving efficiency 2 percent per year through 2020, and then offsetting emissions above 2020 levels starting in 2021 (that’s what their phrase “carbon neutral growth” from 2020 means).

Above: the emissions-reductions proposal of the International Air Transport Association (green), and business-as-usual emissions (red).

We think that’s a reasonable place to start, as long as the talks move forward, not backtrack.  The 2010 ICAO resolution itself recognizes the proposal is not enough. It says:

the aspirational goal of 2 per cent annual fuel efficiency improvement is unlikely to deliver the level of reduction necessary to stabilize and then reduce aviation’s absolute emissions contribution to climate change, and that goals of more ambition will need to be considered to deliver a sustainable path for aviation.

The industry’s proposal – the green line to the right – is weaker than the ICAO resolution, and allows emissions to continue to grow.

The yardstick we’ll be using to measure any progress in the meeting over the next two days is: are countries speaking in terms of reducing aviation’s total emissions, with binding targets?

Or are the talks backtracking to the industry’s lowest common denominator?

BEGIN ORIGINAL POST

U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern will be in the hot seat tomorrow — in more ways than one.

U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Envoy Todd Stern is hosting a meeting in Washington of 17 countries to discuss emissions from international aviation.

Airlines are the world's seventh largest planetary polluter.

Everyone from the aviation industry to governments to environmental groups says that the best way to deal with pollution from airplanes is through the Montreal-based International Civil Aviation Organization, or ICAO. (It’s pronounced "eye-kay-oh" or "ih-cow" … you say tomayto, I say tomahto…)

ICAO was tasked by world governments way back in 1997 to come up with a solution to this problem. Unfortunately, they’ve been dithering about it since your teenager was a toddler.

Meanwhile, in 2003, Europe suffered a climate catastrophe — a massive heat wave that killed more than 40,000 people.

Europe got serious about climate security after the 2003 heat wave. It enacted a law putting most of its industry under emissions caps.

Aviation basically got a ten-year grace period from that cap. But this year, for the first time, all planes landing or taking off from European airports will have to reduce their climate pollution. Those that don’t comply will face tough sanctions.

The law is causing a lot of complaining from the U.S.-based airlines, including United, American, and Delta.

To hear them squawk, you'd think Europe's aviation law meant “The End Is Nigh.”

But let's take a deep breath here.

The EU law only requires airlines to cut their pollution by 5 percent.

Economists commissioned by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to assess the impact on U.S. airlines found that the EU law might … I repeat, mightcost as much as $6 on a roundtrip ticket from the U.S. to Europe.

That's the same as the cost of a beer on a Delta or United flight.

Oh, and the economists said "might" because they found that — if the airlines met the EU law by flying more efficiently — they could actually make money from it.

So why is this so controversial?

Because … while Stern's meeting is aimed at coming up with new ideas for how ICAO can move forward, and while the EU's law is actually nudging ICAO in that direction … the U.S. airlines have other ideas.

Aviation is the world's seventh largest polluter , but U.S. airlines are still trying to get out of complying with Europe's anti-pollution law. (Sources:  International Civil Aviation Organization, International Energy Agency, United Nations Environment Programme)

United, American, Delta and their trade association are pressing to have the meeting focus on how to bring legal action against the EU, rather than focus on ways to make progress in ICAO. Specifically, they’re pushing for agreement to bring legal action under Article 84 of ICAO's governing treaty.

Never mind that the airlines don't have much of a wing to fly on for legal action. (They already brought and lost such a case in European courts.)

Never mind that Article 84 cases are cumbersome, time-consuming procedures that drag on for years and almost never reach a conclusion.

The airlines' real game is to tie ICAO up so deeply in the ponderous Article 84 process that it will never have time to work on a serious agreement on climate change.

The airlines are also lobbying hard for Congress to pass legislation barring U.S. airlines from obeying the EU's law.

Legislation like that is almost unprecedented in U.S. history. Last time we saw legislation blocking American companies from obeying the laws of the countries in which they do business was when Congress barred American firms from suborning apartheid in South Africa.

So the airlines are acting as if a $6 ticket surcharge is the equivalent of a massive human rights violation. (Just keep in mind airlines generally charge several times that much for a checked bag.)

That's what makes Stern's meeting this week so hot.

Washington didn't even invite any European countries to the table. Maybe it's because the airlines fear that with Europeans in the room, countries might actually start talking seriously about how to reach an agreement in ICAO that's as effective in cutting pollution as the EU law. (The EU has already said it will waive its law when — or if — ICAO does reach such an agreement.)

We're hoping the talks will illuminate some new paths forward. But against the backdrop of all the wacky weather Washington's had lately, the last thing we need here right now is “more heat than light.”

Posted in Aviation, News|: | 12 Responses

Mexico's historic climate law: an analysis

While environmental issues were not center stage in Mexico’s recent election, Mexico’s new president, whether he is yet aware of it or not, will inherit a tremendous opportunity for win-wins on environmental stewardship and combating the country's pressing economic challenges through Mexico’s new climate law.

Mexico's new president will hold a great deal of power in transforming Mexico into a clean energy economy, thanks to the country's sweeping new climate law. (Photo credit: Flickr user Esparta)

The new General Law on Climate Change allows Mexico to deploy economically efficient mechanisms (like the development of emissions trading) that offer enormous opportunities for reducing the country’s greenhouse gas emissions and could truly transform Mexico into a 21st century, clean energy economy. The country’s presumed president-elect, Enrique Peña Nieto, and his administration will hold a great deal of power in both making this a reality – and making it their own.

Outgoing President Felipe Calderón signed the legislation into law just days before June's G-20 Summit in Mexico and the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development. It sets out ambitious, but achievable, mitigation goals and establishes critical machinery for setting the country on a sustainable, low-carbon development path.

But like many pieces of broad and potentially transformative legislation, much will be determined through the details of its implementation.

While the law is landmark in many ways, some key elements – such as its national targets for reducing emissions and the option to develop a domestic emissions trading system – are not mandatory, nor does the law itself spell out specific sanctions for not meeting those targets.

Absolute, legally binding caps are the surest way to achieve Mexico’s goals of reducing carbon emissions; given the law's lack of such a cap, the absolute strength of the law and whether it accomplishes its mitigation goals will depend on political will and leadership. (View a translation of the law's relevant provisions)

Summary: Major provisions in Mexico’s climate bill

Among other ambitious, though some voluntary, measures, the General Law on Climate Change (LGCC) aims to increase renewable energy use; sets ambitious goals to curb domestic emissions; and establishes a high-level climate commission that is authorized to create a domestic carbon market.

The law lays out clear federal authority to develop national-level policy, planning and specific actions for mitigation under a national climate change program. It provides a critical framework and a clear mandate for aligning national policies and programs across ministries and agencies in support of coherent mitigation and adaptation policy.  It also requires the Government to develop short, medium, and long-term policy plans.

Major components of Mexico’s General Law on Climate Change include:

  1. Goal to increase renewable energy use: The Ministry of Finance and relevant energy agencies will develop a system of incentives to favor the use of renewable energy by no later than 2020; the law also establishes goals for increasing electricity generation from renewable sources, including an aspirational target, or goal, of 35% of electricity generation coming from renewable sources by 2024.
  2. Ambitious, economy-wide emissions-reductions goals: The law sets a goal of reducing Mexico’s greenhouse gas emissions to 30% below business-as-usual levels by 2020, and 50% below 2000 levels by 2050.  These are the same as the aspirational, long-term emissions reductions (mitigation) goals Mexico pledged under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
  3. National climate change information system: The law requires mandatory emissions reporting and the creation of a public emissions registry covering emissions sources from power generation and use, transport, agriculture, stockbreeding, forestry and other land uses, solid waste and industrial processes.
  4. Emissions trading system: The law authorizes the Environment Ministry to establish an emissions market that can include international transactions between Mexico and any countries with which it enters into emissions trading agreements.
  5. High-level climate change commission: The inter-secretarial climate change commission (CICC) established in the law will contribute to the formulation and approval of the national climate change policy. The CICC will be composed of heads of a range of ministries, including: Environment; Agriculture and Livestock; Rural Development, Fisheries, and Food; Health; Communications and Transport; Treasury; Tourism; Social Development; Governance; Oceans; Energy; Education; Finance and Public Credit; and Foreign Affairs.
  6. Climate change fund: The new fund will allow the federal government to collect and channel resources from domestic and international sources toward domestic climate change activities for reducing greenhouse gas emissions (mitigation) and adapting to the changing climate (adaptation).
  7. Expanding the National Institute of Ecology's mandate to include a major focus on climate change: Much additional technical and policy work will be conducted under the new National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change (INECC), formerly the National Institute of Ecology.

Analysis

Overwhelming multi-party support in both houses of the Mexican Congress this spring bodes well for the future of the climate law, which was three years in the making. The votes that turned the bill into law came from all major parties – including large swaths of the presumed president-elect's own party; the bill passed in the lower house 280-10 and the Senate 78-0.

Now most of the policy and regulatory power will depend on the political will of a few key federal ministries – largely led by the Environment Ministry (SEMARNAT) and the Energy Ministry (SENER) – along with a broader array of ministries that will make up the climate change commission.

Since its earliest iterations, the legislation has undergone changes that reflect compromises to address concerns of some industries over such comprehensive legislation. These changes mainly insert stipulations about consideration of cost impacts, economic well-being, and global competitiveness of the Mexican economy into decisions on climate change policy and programs.

While these stipulations could provide barriers to some actions, they may also represent opportunities for real economic benefits.  Many of the key, large-scale mitigation actions available to Mexico provide long-term cost efficiency and economic benefit, particularly in the energy sector.

Mandatory absolute caps on greenhouse gas emissions are the surest way to achieve Mexico’s mitigation goals. Lacking these, Mexico's new law is still an important step forward, in part because economic realities are likely to lead Mexico toward adopting economically efficient market-based approaches because:

  1. Mexico could cut the cost of its mitigation targets in half by instituting a domestic mandatory cap-and-trade system. EDF’s preliminary analysis based on the World Bank’s estimates indicates that Mexico could reach its 2020 target for one-half the anticipated cost by implementing a mandatory cap and allowing domestic carbon trading. Further, international trading of a portion of those reductions could result in billions of dollars of revenue, even before 2020. By instituting such caps, Mexico could take full advantage of these opportunities.
  2. Mexico’s power sector has significant potential for cost-effective emissions reductions. The potential for cumulative electricity sector emissions reductions through 2030 are estimated at 1.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e), according to the World Bank. The Bank also estimates more than 30% of the potential emission reductions at the relatively low price of just under $5/tCO2e could come from the power sector, and that number could jump to about 40% of the potential emission reductions if the price is just below $12/tCO2e.
  3. Mexico could reap huge energy cost savings from the law. The World Bank study predicts that Mexico’s investment in reducing energy consumption through 2030 would more than pay for itself, leading to an $8.2-billion net savings, or surplus, from lower energy costs. The net costs of reducing emissions within the sector up to 2030 and beyond could potentially be even lower given incentives provided through future international carbon trading.

With vision and political will, the president-elect can implement smart environmental and economic policy, build a 21st-century green economy and create a legacy of real action on climate change and transformative development for Mexico.

Posted in Mexico|: | 8 Responses