The UN’s civil aviation body reached consensus on 3 October for a roadmap to decide to create a market-based scheme curbing aviation emissions by 2020, but rejected an EU proposal allowing it to apply its Emissions Trading System (ETS) to foreign airlines in the interim.
The agreement by the executive committee of the International Civil Aviation Organization (Icao) emerged after two days of plenary debates and intensive sideline huddles.
Though it still faces a vote today (4 October) by the full assembly of Icao delegates, the most contentious issues have now been addressed.
The resolution sets steps for the Icao's member states to take between now and the next triennial assembly in 2016 to curb growing emissions from the aviation sector.
The committee agreed to "decide to develop a global MBM (market-based mechanism) scheme for international aviation" in 2016, as agreed by the ICAO's governing council in early September.
But the Icao Assembly's president Michel Wachenheim amended the text to reflect requests from developing countries, such as India, to say that the 2016 decision should take into account "environmental and economic impacts" of different global MBM options, “including feasibility and practicability”.
"After some very challenging discussions, including compromises by all parties, ICAO has made a strong commitment in favor of taking multilateral action to tackle climate change," said Todd Stern, the State Department's climate envoy and chief U.S. negotiator.
However, the US-based Envionmental Defence Fund (EDF) called on the US to step up its leadership in the Icao to ensure that the air industry’s emissions were substantially reduced.
“A bedrock principle of international law is that nations have the sovereign right to limit pollution emitted in their borders,” said Annie Petsonk, EDF’s legal counsel, “so ICAO took half a step backward with its attempt to narrow the ambit for countries to implement their own market-based measures.”
European delegation ‘bruised’
It was unclear earlier whether the committee would be able to reach consensus on the global MBM after a group of mostly developing countries voted 97-39 voted to limit the ability of the EU to apply the ETS to international airlines before a global scheme starts.
The EU had insisted that a deal at the Icao should allow it to be able to apply the ETS while countries continued to work toward a global market, but gradually started backing down amid fierce pushback from countries ranging from Argentina to Russia.
Though one European official said that the delegation was "bruised" after the morning vote, a representative of Lithuania – which holds the EU's rotating presidency – praised the final outcome.
"It will allow us to start the negotiations on the global MBM which is the biggest achievement, not only for Europe but for all ICAO members," said Arijandas Sliupas, Lithuania's deputy transport minister.
The EU now must decide whether the deal is strong enough to continue to suspend its legislation, which enables it to apply the ETS to intercontinental flights.
The European Parliament will have to act quickly to endorse any extension of the European Commission's decision to "stop the clock" on its law in time for an April 2014 deadline.