Selected category: Aviation

ICAO’s market-based measure could cover 80% of aviation emissions growth in mandatory phase

icao-logo The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the UN agency charged with setting standards for international flights, has set a goal of “carbon neutral growth from 2020” – i.e. capping net emissions at year-2020 levels. The ICAO Assembly today adopted a global market-based measure that lets airlines purchase high-quality emission reductions to offset the carbon growth above the cap.

Analysis of high-quality data on aviation emissions projections demonstrates the ICAO market-based measure is a critical step forward for climate action, and could prevent nearly 2.5 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere over the first 15 years of the program. Here’s how.

The market-based measure provides that:

  • from 2021-2023, nations would opt in to a voluntary pilot phase;
  • from 2024-2026, nations would opt in voluntarily to another phase;
  • from 2027-2035, all nations would be required to participate, with some exceptions;
  • least developed countries, land-locked developing countries, and small island developing countries would all be exempt throughout (although these states could opt in at any time if they so choose).

What this means for ICAO’s commitment to “carbon neutral growth from 2020” depends on how many more countries decide voluntarily to opt in.

EDF has developed an interactive tool to allow users to estimate how many emissions would be covered of the billion-tonne gap between projected emissions and the 2020 cap, if various countries opt in to the MBM.

The tool provides unique calculations of the aviation sector’s emissions growth based on projections from ICAO, industry and analysts. The focus on emissions provides a direct estimate of the aviation sector’s contribution to climate change that complements analyses based on aviation’s traffic growth, measured in revenue tonne kilometers (RTKs).

Here’s the snapshot of the tool as of the adoption of the market-based measure on October 6. With Qatar and Burkina Faso becoming the 64th and 65th countries to signal their intent to participate in the MBM from the start, 65% of emissions growth above 2020 would be covered in Pilot + Phase 1, and nearly 80% (79%) of these emissions would be covered during Phase 2 of the program (2027-2035). Importantly, 77% of anticipated emissions growth above 2020 would be covered over the first fifteen years of the program.


The tool shows the importance of commitments to early participation by the Asia-Pacific aviation powerhouse states of Singapore, Japan, Korea, and Australia; the Middle Eastern aviation dynamos of United Arab Emirates and Qatar; Latin American states like Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala; and leading African states such as Kenya.

It also shows that as exempted states increase in their importance as aviation powers, participation by at least some of them will be significant for boosting overall coverage toward the goal of carbon-neutral growth from 2020. Consequently, it will be important for today’s leading aviation countries to help build MBM capacity in the anticipated aviation leaders of tomorrow.

A number of countries that are exempt under the resolution's formulas, including leading voices from the front lines of climate impacts – Burkina Faso, Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Kenya – have announced their intent to participate, and more are expected to join.

After nearly two decades of effort, ICAO is providing global leadership, with both developed and developing countries taking the lead. Hand in hand with this week’s announcement about ratification of the Paris Agreement, that’s good news indeed.

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Why aviation’s carbon must be capped, and how to do it


Airplanes on a flooded runway at Don Muang International Airport on Nov 19, 2011 in Bangkok, Thailand. Image: 1000 Words /

Government negotiators met in Montreal last week to seek agreement on a global cap on carbon pollution from international aviation. Bilateral negotiations are continuing, and text of a draft resolution is expected to be considered at the triennial meeting of the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in early October.

In anticipation of these meetings, Carbon & Climate Law Review (CCLR), a broadly-read journal catering to climate insiders, just released a special issue on international aviation. Experts illustrate the need for and feasibility of a strong market-based measure. Here are some highlights from the special issue:

Aviation’s impact on climate is understated

Aviation’s total global warming impacts are more than double those estimated from its carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, or equivalent to roughly 5% of total radiative forcing from CO2. Nitrogen oxide emissions and aviation’s impacts on clouds add significantly to the warming effect of carbon dioxide. Without new policies, aviation emissions could compromise the goal of the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit the increase in global temperatures to 1.5 – 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Climate change increases risks to aviation safety, infrastructure, and operations

Aviation pollution causes harm to the climate, but a warming climate also creates challenges for aviation safety and operations.

According to industry experts, in high temperatures, planes can’t carry as much. Airports risk damage to runways from storm surge and rising sea levels. Passengers and crew may be exposed to more turbulence. New electronics, sensing, and communication technology may be needed to reduce the risk of exposure to severe weather.

The solution: a market-based measure

To contain aviation’s impacts on climate change, experts from industry, policy, and law call for a market-based measure to cap emissions from international flights.

A market-based measure can be established and enforced under existing law

Legal experts recommend that an MBM can be established as a set of “standard” under the existing Chicago Convention, the foundational treaty for international aviation. Compliance with existing standards is good but not perfect. The experts show how market entry conditions, domestic transportation statutes, and conditions imposed by aviation financial services and trade associations can be used to bolster compliance.

A market-based measure should provide broad coverage and deliver co-benefits

Expert contributors to the issue recommend that the coverage of the MBM be broad. They caution that exemptions from a market-based measure could distort the market and disproportionately benefit the wealthiest individuals in those countries.

Other contributors show that policies to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) can help meet international aviation’s demand for emissions offsets, even after taking into account existing commitments and demand for offsets. Further, a “keep what you save” policy that allows air carriers to use their own fuel use reductions to reduce offsetting obligations could help resolve current debates over allocating offsetting obligations between air carriers.

This fall’s ICAO General Assembly is a critical moment for countries, and the aviation industry, to demonstrate leadership in providing safe international air travel while minimizing risks to the climate.

If countries don’t agree to the market-based measure in October, the world may have to wait until ICAO’s next General Assembly in 2019. With rapid growth of aviation pollution, that’s a delayed take-off that none of us can afford.

Click “read more” to see key takeaways from each article of the special issue of CCLR. The journal’s publisher, Lexxion, has made the special issue free to access through October 7, 2016.

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Can airlines help reduce deforestation?


The global airline industry could become an ally in combating deforestation, as countries are set to vote at the September 2016 meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) on whether airlines can use REDD+ credits to offset their emissions. Image Source: Flickr, Marinelson Almeida

A window of opportunity may be opening to secure sustainable financing – from an unusual source – to support national, state, and provincial-level efforts to Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+).

The global airline industry is seeking international agreement on a program to cap the carbon dioxide emissions of flights between countries, and let airlines use a Market-Based Measure (MBM) to offset emissions above the cap. When the 191 governments that comprise the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) vote on the MBM at the end of September, that may decide whether airlines can use REDD+ to offset their emissions above 2020 levels.

Why does ICAO need REDD+?

In 2013, ICAO member states adopted a goal of “carbon neutral growth from 2020” – i.e., capping the net emissions of international flights at 2020 levels. International aviation’s emissions, however, are forecasted to rise dramatically, as tens of thousands of new large aircraft take to the skies in coming decades.

Even after international aviation makes improvements in operational and technological efficiency, the sector will still likely face an “emissions gap” of 7.8 billion tonnes (or 7.8 Gt CO2) over the period of 2020-2040. National and jurisdictional level REDD+ projects that meet the environmental and social safeguards agreed under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are anticipated to be able to supply offsets enabling aviation to cover a significant portion of the expected gap, even while ensuring that these reductions are not also claimed against national emission reduction commitments.


The international aviation sector will still likely face an “emissions gap” of 7.8 billion tonnes over the period of 2020-2040 between their goal of carbon-neutral growth from 2020 and their projected emissions – even after international aviation makes improvements in operational and technological efficiency. Image source: Flightpath 1.5

Getting the right REDD+ into ICAO: REDD+ programs that meet UNFCCC requirements

The December 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, adopted by the 197 Parties to the UNFCCC, gave special recognition to the key role that REDD+ can play in mitigating climate change.

The Paris Agreement, the UNFCCC’s 2013 Warsaw Framework on REDD+, and related UNFCCC Decisions provide that REDD+ programs must be created at national, or – temporarily – subnational (e.g. state and province) level. This is important because national and subnational REDD+ programs (collectively known as jurisdictional REDD+ or “JREDD+” programs) can create and enforce policies to address deforestation at a large scale.

For example, without jurisdictional REDD+, there’s a risk that forest protection in one project area could displace deforestation to other areas; this is avoided when REDD+ projects are “nested” in a national or jurisdictional-level program. According to guidance by the UNFCCC, JREDD+ programs’ results must be recognized by national REDD+ Focal Points and submitted to the REDD Information hub in order to ensure that emissions reductions are not claimed more than once.

ICAO’s timeline

In March and April, ICAO convened a set of regional dialogues to give governments, industry, and civil society stakeholders the opportunity to discuss MBM design options and potential sources of offsets. ICAO will convene a high-level ministerial meeting May 11-13 at ICAO headquarters in Montreal, Canada, to review a draft text. Additional meetings will be held throughout the summer and the final, and most important ICAO Assembly, where the MBM will be finalized, is to be held in Montreal from 27 September to 7 October 2016.

Seizing the opportunity

REDD+ countries interested in sustainable financing for their national and jurisdictional REDD+ programs should be aware of the potential for a new ICAO market based mechanism to provide such financing. In order to seize this opportunity, REDD+ policy makers and aviation counterparts need to collaborate to ensure an ICAO market based mechanism inclusive of REDD+ and with environmental integrity.

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To understand airplanes’ climate pollution, a picture is worth a thousand words

Thousands of words have been written this week about a new efficiency standard recommended by a technical group of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). The standard, if adopted by ICAO’s executive council, is intended to require aircraft manufacturers to start producing more efficient airplanes.

But one picture makes clear that even with the new efficiency standard, international aviation still has a huge gap between its anticipated emissions and its own environmental goals.

Graph of aviation's emissions gap

Source: Environmental Defense Fund

The top of the upsloping curve shows how international aviation’s emissions are slated to skyrocket in coming years.

The horizontal red line toward the bottom, labeled “Emissions Cap at 2020 levels,” shows the industry’s own goal of “carbon-neutral growth from 2020.” ICAO has also embraced this goal.

The area below the top of the curve and above the horizontal red line at 2020 is the total amount of emissions that international aviation must deal with to meet this goal.

This week, ICAO’s Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection (CAEP) recommended that ICAO’s Executive Council adopt, at its next meeting in June, a carbon dioxide efficiency standard for aircraft, akin to a fuel economy standard for cars. That’s a step in the right direction.

But how big a slice will this new standard take out of international aviation’s skyrocketing emissions? At best, that’s the blue sliver shown in this picture. (The red sliver aviation hopes to cut through “operational improvements” like better air traffic control.)

That leaves a huge “Emissions Gap” – shown in green – about 7.8 billion tonnes of carbon pollution that international aviation will have to deal with to meet its own climate goals, let alone the kinds of reductions that will be needed if the sector is to bring emissions down to the dashed red arrow, along the lines of the Paris Climate Agreement.

The industry has a long way to go to make carbon pollution go down, not up.

ICAO’s pledged to finalize, this September, a global market-based measure (MBM) with offsetting to drive industry’s net emissions down to the 2020 cap. President Obama has made climate action a centerpiece of his legacy. Success in cutting aviation emissions could help – but that will only happen if the Obama administration takes the lead in the intensive talks now underway in ICAO.

The picture is clear: While the aircraft standard will help, the Administration now needs to keep its eyes on the prize the ICAO decision on the market-based measure in September.

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International action on aviation emissions: What's at stake in ICAO

If international aviation were a country, it would be a top ten emitter of carbon dioxide (CO2), on par with Germany or the United Kingdom. And it’s expected to grow enormously: with more than 50,000 new large aircraft slated to take to the skies, its emissions are expected to triple or quadruple by 2040.

In Paris in December 2015, the world hailed the success of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in adopting the first broadly applicable instrument to start driving carbon pollution down, with a goal of limiting warming to 1.5-2° C.

But Paris didn’t cover pollution from flights between countries. Why not? Because in 1997, aviation lobbied for, and got, the UNFCCC to defer these to another UN body, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

ICAO talked about the issue for fifteen years until 2013, when, with Europe poised to enforce a cap on emissions of inbound/outbound flights, ICAO pledged to act by 2016. Quiet talks are now underway on:

  1. An ICAO CO2 standard for aircraft – akin to a miles-per-gallon standard for cars. In Montreal next week, possibly as early as Monday, February 8, 2016, a technical group is expected to agree a recommendation for this standard.
  1. A cap on international aviation’s total CO2 emissions at 2020 levels. ICAO is slated to vote in September 2016, on the cap and a market-based measure (MBM) to help airlines implement it.

Here’s what’s at stake:


Source: Environmental Defense Fund

Without any new rules, international aviation’s carbon pollution is expected to skyrocket (top red line). Better air traffic control can trim some pollution (top red wedge). An ambitious CO2 standard would mean fewer emissions per passenger-mile, further slowing the sector’s emissions growth (blue wedge). But because the industry’s overall emissions are expected to far outstrip these per-trip efficiency gains, there’s still a huge gap (green triangle) – at least 6-8 billion tonnes – to get to the goal of an emissions cap at 2020 levels (red horizontal line), or even more ambitious goals along the lines of the Paris agreement (red dashed line).

The real prize is the market-based measure to cap aviation emissions and drive pollution down, not up.

Learn more at

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Why airlines should stop climate change

Carbon pollution from airplanes creates risks to the general public’s health and welfare, according to a preliminary EPA finding released this week. But the aviation sector itself is particularly vulnerable to the rising seas, higher temperatures, and intense weather events brought by an overheated atmosphere.

Experts have been warning for years about risks airports and airlines face from climate change, including:

  • airport runways buckling in the heat or flooding;
  • health issues for airport and airline workers from higher temperatures on the tarmac;
  • smaller capacity for take offs and landings during stormy weather;
  • damage to critical air traffic control equipment from storms and floods; and
  • impaired airplane performancedecreasing how far planes can fly (range) and how much weight they can carry (payload).

Airlines and the traveling public experienced the full force of these impacts in 2012. Hurricane Sandy caused the cancellation of nearly 20,000 flights in the New York area, cost the airline industry nearly $190 million in earnings, and did $29 million in damage to federal air navigation systems. Some navigation systems were offline for weeks, limiting the ability of airlines to land in poor weather even after the storm had ended.

These hefty risks place serious costs on the airlines themselves, the cities that own airports, businesses that rely on efficient cargo transport, and the flying public. This industry needs to protect the climate for its own sake. Airlines should support tough limits on carbon pollution.

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