Author Archives: Jennifer Andreassen

Obama's bill signing puts spotlight on ICAO and on whether U.S. will drive agreement to cut aviation pollution

President Barack Obama yesterday signed into law Senate bill 1956, the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme Prohibition Act of 2011. The new law, as we've covered before, authorizes — but does not require — the Secretary of Transportation to prohibit airlines from participating in the European Union's anti-pollution law.

If it were ranked as a country, the aviation sector would be the world’s 7th largest source of greenhouse gas pollution. Pollution from aviation is rising 3 to 4 percent per year. Image source

In a statement after the signing, the White House said:

The Obama administration is firmly committed to reducing harmful carbon pollution from civil aviation both domestically and internationally …

The Administration remains focused on making progress in reducing aviation emissions through the appropriate multilateral forum – the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) — and we welcome the recent progress there in establishing a new High Level Group charged with accelerating negotiations on a basket of measures that all countries can adopt at the next ICAO Assembly meeting in September 2013 to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from aviation.

EDF and leading environmental groups WWF, Earthjustice, and Natural Resources Defense Council said in a joint statement "now is the perfect time to make a global deal happen," and underscored their "readiness to work with all stakeholders to get the job done."

Responding to the bill's passage and signing just weeks after Europe "'stop[ped] the clock' on the implementation of the international aspects of its ETS aviation" to facilitate international discussions, EDF's international counsel Annie Petsonk said:

Unlike the bill that passed here in the U.S., Europe’s stop-the-clock on its law aims to ‘create a positive atmosphere’ for the international talks.Now the spotlight is on ICAO, and on whether the U.S. will step forward with the real leadership needed to drive agreement on an ICAO program to cut aviation’s carbon pollution.

The background section of our joint statement has a good summary of the EU law, progress in ICAO and S.1956:

Background:

Aviation is a significant source of global warming pollution and is one of the fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions if left uncontrolled.  If it were ranked as a country, the aviation sector would be the world’s 7th largest source of this pollution, which is rising 3 to 4 percent per year.

Europe’s Aviation Directive, which includes aviation within Europe’s economy-wide Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) from January 2012, is a pioneering law that holds airlines accountable for emissions associated with commercial flights that land at or take off from EU airports.  The program is projected to reduce carbon pollution equivalent to that produced by 30 million cars by 2020.

On November 9, the 36-nation Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) decided to form a high-level advisory group to provide guidance on crafting an international program to reduce emissions from aviation, with the aim to adopt an agreement at their next triennial Assembly in September-October 2013. In response, the European Union announced it would stop the clock for one year on the implementation of its law capping the carbon emissions of international flights landing and taking off from European airports.

The preceding developments render irrelevant S. 1956, U.S. legislation signed today authorizing the U.S. Secretary of Transportation to prohibit U.S. airlines from taking part in the European emissions program.  If the Secretary of Transportation were to implement the prohibition outlined in the bill, it would require unlawful behavior on the part of U.S. airlines and would risk igniting a trade war with the European Union. However, the bill also puts the U.S. government on record supporting efforts to secure an international approach to reduce aviation’s global warming pollution.

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Doha climate talks could see measured progress toward new global agreement

International climate negotiations have begun in Doha, Qatar, where countries can make progress toward a new global agreement, climate finance and reducing deforestation emissions, among other technical issues. Photo credit: Flickr user UNclimatechange

The largest international climate negotiations of the year kicked off Monday in Doha, Qatar, drawing delegates from more than 190 countries in a grand effort to create a global treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and halt climate change.

Worldwide attention is particularly focused on climate after a number of respected and typically conservative global institutions — including The World Bank, United Nations Environment Program, International Energy AgencyPwC – in reports released in the weeks leading up to Doha painted grim pictures of the risks of extreme climate change.

These talks in Doha could see measured progress toward a new global agreement in some areas — or, as The New York Times put it, "the agenda for the two-week Doha convention includes an array of highly technical matters but nothing that is likely to bring the process to a screaming halt."

Environmental Defense Fund anticipates three issue areas could see important progress in Doha:

1) Negotiating tracks

The countries now meeting in Doha are scheduled to finalize a second round of commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, the international agreement to cut greenhouse gases, and wrap up the Long-term Cooperative Action (LCA) negotiating track, which was launched in Bali in 2007 and led many countries to make voluntary emission reduction pledges but fell short of a comprehensive binding agreement.

Doha will also set the course for the “Durban Platform for Enhanced Action” track, whose goal is a new climate deal for all countries to be agreed to by 2015 and to take effect from 2020.

International Climate Program Director Jennifer Haverkamp said in EDF's opening statement:

Countries can make real progress in Doha by agreeing to the Kyoto Protocol’s second commitment period with minimal fuss and delay, and concluding the Long-term Cooperative Action track, so they can turn their full attention to bringing lessons learned and key policy tools from those agreements forward into the new negotiations.

Even the U.S. founding fathers didn’t get the Constitution right the first time – remember the Articles of Confederation? Countries, in constructing this new agreement, have a chance to incorporate the key elements of these tracks: Kyoto’s binding structure and accountability, and the LCA’s broadened participation among countries and new tools to fight climate change.

2) Climate finance

Countries in Doha should deliver clear signals of ambitious commitment to address climate change, a much-needed policy signal that will help unlock and target critical climate finance funds that exist right now in the stock and bond markets and in countries’ national public expenditures.

3) Deforestation emissions

For policies for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+), countries have the opportunity to agree that multiple sources of finance can be used to pay for REDD+ reductions, and thereby send another positive signal to tropical forest nations.

Climate & Forests Specialist Gustavo Silva-Chávez said last week in a blog post previewing the Doha REDD+ negotiations:

REDD+ is almost at the finish line. We need a decision with more direction about how it will be financed, and carbon markets must play a role.

Countries, states making major climate progress

Outside the UN negotiations, countries and states have been busy launching and benefiting from emissions reductions programs. Just since last year’s negotiations:

Here in the United States, California begins its state-wide cap-and-trade system on January 1, and the northeastern states’ regional cap-and-trade system (RGGI) is already cutting emissions while the regional per capita GDP is growing faster than that of the nation as a whole. And a new report shows that the U.S. is on track to reduce its emissions by more than 16 percent from 2005 levels by 2020, thanks in part to these states’ initiatives.

Haverkamp said these moves are all significant:

“A full quarter of the world’s economy – from California to China, Mexico to South Korea – has or is putting in place programs to reduce emission. The top-down UN process is still critical to stopping dangerous climate change, but more and more countries are deciding not to wait around for it to tell them what to do. We’re already in a bottom-up world.”

 

See related post: REDD+ almost at the finish line: Doha preview

Posted in Deforestation, Doha (COP-18), Europe, Forestry, Indigenous peoples, Mexico, News, REDD, UN negotiations|: | 1 Response

U.S. House passes superfluous bill, EDF calls on airlines to help find global approach to reduce aviation emissions

The U.S. House of Representatives tonight passed a bill that authorizes the Secretary of Transportation to prohibit airlines from participating in the European Union's anti-pollution law. EDF called the bill superfluous — the EU yesterday paused its carbon pollution law that was the target of the U.S. bill — and warned it sets a bad precedent for U.S. foreign relations.

The European Union Emissions Trading Scheme Prohibition Act of 2011 at best is superfluous, and at worst undermines respect nations need to have for each other's laws, EDF's Annie Petsonk said after the House passed the bill. Photo credit

The EU paused its law following the International Civil Aviation Organization's (ICAO) setting in motion a high-level political process aimed at agreeing on a global program for cutting aviation carbon pollution by October 2013.

EDF’s International Counsel Annie Petsonk said in EDF's statement in the House:

Now that ICAO has moved into high gear its effort to get a global system for limiting aviation’s carbon pollution, and the EU has stopped its clock pending the ICAO outcome, at best this bill is simply superfluous. At worst, it undermines the respect that nations need to have for each other’s laws in a globalizing world.

President Obama signaled in his reelection acceptance speech that there is an opportunity for revitalized executive branch leadership on the challenge of climate change.

The aviation question, one of the first climate issues after the elections, puts the spotlight on the White House, which will need to put significant political muscle into helping ICAO reach agreement on a worldwide approach to address aircraft emissions.

The airlines who lobbied so hard for enactment of this bill should join with environmentalists in agreeing on that global approach.

The European Union Emissions Trading Scheme Prohibition Act of 2011 gives the Secretary of Transportation authority to prohibit U.S. airlines from complying with a European law requiring airplanes that land or take off from European airports to account for and limit their flights’ global warming pollution through an emissions trading system.

The bill also requires the Secretary of Transportation to hold the airlines "harmless" of any costs, including both the costs of complying with the European law, estimated to be trivial, and the costs of not complying. The “hold harmless” provisions could launch a wholly unnecessary trade war and stick U.S. taxpayers with up to $22 billion in non-compliance costs.

Before the bill came to the House floor tonight, Petsonk talked to POLITICO, which reported:

Petsonk has long been predicting ICAO would be confronted with the decision, likening the process to past global environmental law cases that began with bilateral bickering but eventually spawned a global dialogue. That means the U.S. should not yet be patting itself on the back about forcing the EU’s hand.

“The EU didn’t say, ‘We’re ending the system.’ They said, ‘We’re giving the ICAO process time’” to work on the issue, Petsonk said.

That means congressional action on a bill that has been in a recess-induced lull for weeks is likely to pass Congress just days after the real progress was made internationally. “It’s like a Fifth of July firecracker,” Petsonk said of the bill.

Aviation is already the world's seventh largest polluter, and if emissions from the industry are left unregulated, they're expected to quadruple by 2050.

Posted in Aviation, Europe, News|: | 2 Responses

In Bangkok talks, countries grapple with transition to new climate regime

The latest round of UN climate negotiations in Bangkok ended today with Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres touting the talks' "positive momentum" and "concrete progress," and the NGO coalition Climate Action Network sounding notably less enthusiastic.

Above: Delegates met in Bangkok for a week of climate negotiations to prepare for the major conference later this year in Doha. (Photo credit: flickr user UNclimatechange)

Environmental Defense Fund Attorney Alex Hanafi said in EDF's closing statement:

In Bangkok, it became clearer still that the prospect of a new climate deal that calls for all countries to do their part to lower emissions is still in its very early stages, and countries are grappling with how to transition from the old regime to a still as-yet-undefined new one.

Outside the slogging UN negotiations, however, momentum for action on climate change continues growing at national, regional and state levels. For instance, Alex said:

Australia and Europe’s agreeing to link their carbon markets last month is the latest example of the kind of international cooperation needed to stitch together climate action into a whole that will be greater than the sum of its parts.

The next — and the year's biggest — round of international negotiations begins in November in Doha, Qatar.

In Doha, Alex said, countries' success will be measured by their ability to do two things:

  1. expeditiously resolve their differences on the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol, and
  2. then focus on making substantive progress toward achieving a strong, enforceable and flexible climate agreement by 2015.

Posted in Bangkok, UN negotiations|: | Leave a comment

Obama urged to resist aviation industry calls for blocking airline pollution law

Leading U.S. environmental groups today sent a letter to President Obama urging him to resist the aviation industry’s calls to block a European law that limits pollution from aviation.

Environmental groups called on President Obama today to lead a global effort to "craft a meaningful global approach on aviation carbon pollution."  (White House photo credit: Flickr user LollyKnit)

The European law is the only program in the world that sets enforceable limits on carbon emissions from aviation; that pollution is growing so quickly, it's projected to quadruple from 2005 levels by 2050 if left unregulated.

But the aviation industry has been calling for the U.S. government to block the law by bringing a so-called “Article 84” international legal case in the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

The letter, signed by 15 environmental groups and the U.S. Climate Action Network, which represents more than 80 U.S. environmental groups and millions of members, said filing such a formal proceeding to block the law

would be highly inconsistent with your Administration’s efforts to reduce carbon pollution from other sources, and would undermine your Administration’s stated goal of achieving an agreed framework in ICAO to limit global warming pollution from international aviation …

[C]alls for such a proceeding must be viewed for what they truly are: not an effort to improve ICAO’s odds of achieving a global solution, but rather a means of reducing the likelihood that ICAO takes meaningful action on carbon pollution from international aviation – while simultaneously obviating the world’s only program that is now actually doing so. In short, an Article 84 proceeding is at base a transparent effort to allow airlines to evade responsibility for their carbon pollution in perpetuity …

[Y]our Administration should lead the effort in ICAO to craft a meaningful global approach on aviation carbon pollution, working together with airlines and civil society.

CEOs from the following groups signed the letter: 350.org; Center for Biological Diversity; Climate Protection Campaign; Climate Solutions; Earthjustice; Environmental Defense Fund; Environment America; Environment Northeast; Greenpeace USA; Interfaith Power & Light; League of Conservation Voters; Natural Resources Defense Council; Oxfam America; Sierra Club; US Climate Action Network; and World Wildlife Fund US.

View the letter from environmental groups to the president.

Posted in Aviation, News|: | Leave a comment

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
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