ICAO seeks to end rift on new aircraft emission rules

plane_moon.jpg [Jose Maria Cuellar/Flickr]

Europe and the United States tried to bridge differences over emissions standards for aircraft on Sunday (7 February) as global aviation leaders prepared to adopt new rules that could affect Boeing and the Airbus Group’s production of the largest jetliners and cargo aircraft.

Proposals being debated in Montreal by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the United Nations’ aviation agency, would force makers of the world’s largest passenger jets to upgrade or stop producing certain models as early as 2023, according to sources close to the negotiations and documents seen by Reuters.

US and European negotiators are trying to come up with the world’s first carbon dioxide emissions standards for aircraft as part of the industry’s contribution to efforts to combat climate change.

Aviation was not included in the global climate deal agreed by a UN conference in Paris in December, but ICAO is trying to nail down the first of its two-part strategy as soon as Monday after six years of talks. It is due to finalise a market-based mechanism for all airlines later this year.

Differences remain on where to place the bar on efficiency, with the United States and Canada pushing for more stringent targets than the European Union, while environmental groups have accused Europe of dragging its feet.

>>Read: Europe lags behind US in tackling CO2 emissions from planes

“The CO2 standard will push industry to be as fuel-efficient as possible in all market conditions to reduce GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions and the impact of aviation on climate change,” stated the Canadian paper presented at ICAO last week.

The proposals could revive pressure on European planemaker Airbus to upgrade the world’s largest passenger jet, the A380 superjumbo, with new engines. Airbus recently examined that proposal to boost sales, but it has dropped down its list of priorities.

It could also spell the end for Boeing’s struggling 747-8 passenger jet and freighter and force the US planemaker to upgrade at least one of its two smaller freighters.

Airbus and Boeing declined to comment on negotiations.

The Montreal talks, which run until Feb. 12, are designed to set ambitious rules for new types of aircraft in the future.

A less stringent standard would apply to aircraft already in production, but this has led to the fiercest arguments since some of these planes would need to have costly improvements.

>>Read: Aviation industry looks for more than hot air on emissions talks

The fuel efficiency standards would apply to smaller business and regional jets, along with larger commercial planes weighing at least 60 tonnes that account for the majority of aviation sector emissions, two sources familiar with the matter said.

The rules for in-production aircraft would come into effect by 2023, but could also be phased in over a five-year period until 2028, one source said. The tougher standard for new designs could go into effect by 2020.

Participants have been weighing 10 different options for new targets, with one being the weakest and 10 requiring the greatest reduction in emissions, the documents seen by Reuters showed.

European representatives have said they will not back a standard higher than 6 on large planes in production.

The United States and Canada had initially backed options 8 and 9 but said they would not budge below a 7, and at one stage did not rule out breaking off talks, the sources said. However, on Sunday some progress was reported in narrowing differences.

Tougher standards have higher cost implications for planemakers.

While Airbus and Boeing have already planned more fuel-efficient upgrades to most of their programs, including the popular A320 and B737, some jets would have to be upgraded or cease being produced by as early as 2023.

“They’re not content,” one delegate said of the jetmakers.

A question mark remained over the current-generation wide-body jets produced by Airbus and Boeing, the A330 and 777-300ER.

Both are likely to be superseded by new models before 2023, but aviation analysts have said recent market experience and low oil prices suggest demand for older jets can be resilient.

Environmental groups said the standard will boost efficiency, but it will only make a small dent on the industry’s greenhouse gas emissions, which are projected to triple or quadruple from current levels by 2040. They say the standard needs to be accompanied by a strong global market-based approach.

>>Read: ICAO under pressure to forge deal on aviation emissions

The airline sector, like the maritime sector, has its own UN agency, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), which is responsible for organising the reduction of its CO2 emissions. ICAO was tasked by the Kyoto Protocol with addressing emissions from the sector.

It has been difficult to reach global agreement. In 2012, with no deal having been made, the EU included aviation emissions in its Emissions Trading Scheme. The decision sparked a backlash from the industry and foreign countries, like China and India who refused to comply with the scheme and threatened the EU with commercial retaliation measures.

The EU’s temporary halt to the ETS was intended to allow time for the ICAO to devise a global alternative. But in the meantime, international airlines which bitterly attacked the cap and trade scheme at every turn will be exempted from it, while intra-European airlines, which had supported it, will not. 

>>Read: Hedegaard stops clock on aviation emissions law

As a whole, the aviation industry continues to fiercely resist market-based measures as anything more than a stopgap, advocating instead a formula of technological and operational improvements - plus the wider use of biofuels - to reduce emissions.

Transport accounts for 23 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and is growing despite efficiencies, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The Air Transport Action Group in Geneva estimates that the global aviation industry produces around 2% of all carbon dioxide emissions, and accounts for 12% of CO2 emissions from overall transportation sources.

The global airline industry has committed to carbon-neutral growth by 2020, an ambitious goal given the steady growth of the passenger travel despite global economic and political shocks.

>> Read our LinksDossier: Greening air travel

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