In January 2011 we commented on the need to reduce GHG emissions from air travel. These emissions have increased – in part due to the increasing popularity of air travel among citizens of the developed nations and in part because the international aviation industry did little except talk about reducing emissions.
In 2008 the European Union attempted to control aviation emissions by including air transport – both commercial and passengers – in an emissions trading scheme to take effect in January 2012. This law imposed a cap on carbon dioxide emissions by airlines operating EU flights, which included international flights that arrive or depart from an airport within the EU.
The international aviation industry resisted this emissions trading requirement. Many airlines received support from their national governments, who threatened a form of trade sanctions against the EU. The EU avoided a confrontation by limiting the scheme to domestic European flights.
To demonstrate its good intentions, the International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO) proposed market-based measures, such as open emission trading schemes (ETS), which would allow the sector to continue to grow in a sustainable and efficient manner. At its meeting September 27 next, the ICAO intends to “finalize” a Global Market-Based Measure (a type of ETS) that it considers will stabilize net CO2 aviation emissions by 2020.
Apparently the ICAO considers these targets will require the mandatory purchase of offsets, a suggestion that we made in our first commentary on the subject of emissions from air travel. The costs of these offsets could be passed along to passengers – much like a carbon tax. If the offsets are set at a proper level, the longer term effect will be to discourage air travel!
The funds generated by offsets will enable developing countries to mitigate their emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change. Even so there is a problem with this approach: double counting of offsets. The aviation industry can claim its emissions have been offset, but so can the country that receives the offset payments and uses them to reduce its emissions.
IATA, the international business association supported by the airlines , is less than enthusiastic about the use of offsets to cover what may be a large shortfall between emissions covered by trading and actual emissions.
Canada will be represented at the ICAO Conference by Marc Garneau, the Federal Minister of Transport. He must take a firm message to ICAO that further delay is unacceptable, and the result of the meeting must be a comprehensive scheme, fully supported by the industry, that resolves the problems referred to above.
We have also written to Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change advising:
“Your Government has the ability to take steps to push air carriers in and serving Canada to reduce emissions. Now is the time to take these steps if the industry will not.”