Anyone who has sat through UN negotiations knows that the process can be slow and frustrating. There are long stretches of inactivity followed by a day when you realize that big things can be achieved when people and countries come together to seek consensus. For those of us who have been working on climate issues in the aviation industry, last week marked the culmination of a number of years of work. And it brought us one of those days. Following six years of intensifying work, the world’s governments, under the banner of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), have taken the historic step of agreeing a global market-based measure to address the growth in aviation emissions.
The agreement, known as the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) is a landmark moment in the fight against climate change and it is one that should be applauded. This is our contribution to the global challenge of climate change, building on the equally historic Paris Agreement of last year.
The global air transport system is currently responsible for 2% of man-made CO2 emissions and the industry is well aware that is has a responsibility to address that environmental impact. Back in 2009, all sectors of the industry joined together to announce a shared set of climate goals for the short, medium and long term. The agreement coming out of ICAO this week is the instrument that was aimed at enabling us to meet our second goal, carbon-neutral growth from 2020. This goal was established to help balance two needs: allowing the growth of air transport to help support economic, social and cultural connectivity in many parts of the world, with the need to offset the CO2 costs of that growth.
As ever, large-scale international negotiations, particularly those related to climate change, can be subject to political considerations. The industry has been steadfast in its desire to see a mechanism that covers as much international traffic as possible but we appreciate the important influence of international politics. The final deal coming out of ICAO has stipulated that the scheme will be divided into two initial voluntary phases, becoming mandatory from 2027.
While this initial voluntary arrangement produced some concern at first, the number of countries that subsequently put their hands up to volunteer has been hugely encouraging. Not only did many of the largest aviation players (such as the US, EU, China and Australia) agree to participate in the voluntary stages, but so did a number of other smaller states. This showed outstanding leadership that should serve as an example to all. As things stand, the mechanism will now offset over 80% of the growth in CO2 from international aviation after 2020, with 65 States having volunteered to join the early stages and most others joining from 2027.
What’s more, there is still time for more states to volunteer before the scheme kicks off. We in the industry will continue to engage with governments around the world and encourage them to sign-up before then. And, just as importantly, work will continue on developing other means of reducing CO2 emissions. Developing new technologies and sustainable alternative fuels, as well as improving infrastructure and operational efficiencies all have a crucial role to play. If there’s one thing that’s true about aviation, it is that we never stand still!
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