The Historic Climate Change Agreement was approved; great effort is still needed

The aviation industry has shown important  support for ICAO’s proposal to cap greenhouse gas emissions from international flights after last month’s gathering of States at ICAO’s General Assembly in Montreal, where the accord was voted on and approved.

Dr. Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu, President of the ICAO Council, acknowledged that the negotiations were challenging, but that almost all nations now have a “practical agreement and consensus” on the climate change issue.

Though there is now universal support for the worldwide agreement in the aviation sector, there is still much that needs to be resolved before the 15-year aviation accord comes into force in 2021. The first six years of the deal will be voluntary.

ICAO President Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu, center, at the opening of the October Montreal conference, where an accord was set to limit greenhouse gas emissions from international flights. Credit Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press, via Associated Press

In addition to the CO2 released by most aircraft in flight through the burning of fuels such as Jet-A (turbine aircraft) or Avgas (piston aircraft), the aviation industry also contributes greenhouse gas emissions from ground airport vehicles and those used by passengers and staff to access airports, as well as through emissions generated by the production of energy used in airport buildings, the manufacture of aircraft and the construction of airport infrastructure.

Michael Gill, executive director of the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG), which represents airlines, engine makers, airports and pilots said, “We recognize that as an industry, we have an impact on climate change…the industry is willing to pay its share. We just want to pay our share in the most economical way possible.”

The details of the agreement will be crucial if the global airline industry is to avoid previous mistakes in continents where the world’s largest carbon market has failed to limit their region’s carbon dioxide emissions, efforts which have given offsetting programmes an increasingly bad name.

We recognize that as an industry, we have an impact on climate change.

Michael Gill Executive Director of the Air Transport Action Group

“It makes sense for the aviation sector to use carbon offsets, but it’s really challenging to get it right,” said Stig Schjolset, head of carbon analysis at Thomson Reuters Point Carbon, a research group in Oslo. “The experiences of all the previous carbon markets do not bode well.”

Efforts to tackle climate change were rekindled after many world leaders, including US President Barack Obama and Xi Jinping, China’s President, signed the Paris Agreement, which aims to limit future global temperature increases to as little as 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

Already, there are almost enough existing climate change projects worldwide to offset almost all of the aviation industry’s total carbon emissions for the entirety of the new agreement through 2035, according to estimates from Point Carbon.

Air carriers are taking steps to help climate change reductions by making their aircraft fleets more efficient and increasing their use of biofuels. Industry’s initiatives with regards to renewable energy programmes and other climate change projects complement these efforts.