UN rejects EU request to attend green aviation meeting

Grounded. MEPs won't be allowed to attend the UN aviation meeting. [enrique/Flickr]

EXCLUSIVE / The United Nations’ agency for aviation, the ICAO, has snubbed a request by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to allow MEPs to sit in on a crunch meeting to reduce the industry’s contribution to climate change.

Juncker applied for permission for the delegation of five lawmakers after European Parliament President Martin Schulz asked him to write to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

The five MEPs, four from the Parliament’s Environment Committee and one from the Transport Committee, wanted to attend an ICAO Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection (CAEP). It will be held in Montreal, Canada, from 8 to 12 February.

The CAEP drafts environmental rules and has 22 states and 15 observers, made up of other states, industry and one NGO. It is a technical meeting to discuss moves to create a market-based mechanism to make airlines pay for their CO2 output.

Talks are expected to centre on how offsetting emission would work globally, how fuel burn will be measured, and who will be reported to. A separate approach, due to be discussed next week focuses on greening planes with a new fuel efficiency standard.

The CAEP agrees a standard, to then be sent to the ICAO Council for formal approval. Nine of the 22 voting states are European, making the European position central to the final outcome, which is far from certain.

The ICAO has accepted a separate meeting request from seven members of the Transport Committee but not until May. It is likely to deal with a whole range of issues, such as safety, and not specifically the environment. A high level meeting on CO2 is scheduled the following week.

Aviation is responsible for around 5% of the world’s global warming at present, and the industry is growing so fast that, on current trends, it could make up 22% of global emissions by 2050, according to a recent European Parliament study.

The sector was not covered by the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris, which secured an international agreement to cap global warming.


The denial – thought to be the first time the UN has knocked back such a request – was communicated to the European Commission on 22 January.

The CAEP said the meeting was very technical in nature, and that there was no precedent for elected observers to attend. Participants in the CAEP process should have the requisite technical background and expertise and the organisation has been cautious to ensure that political issues will not interfere, the letter said.

The snub is particularly stinging as EU countries contribute about a third (33.6%) of the ICAO’s costs. The US is the next largest contributor with 25%. The Commission does not finance ICAO but provides grants for projects of common interest, such as technical cooperation initiatives.

No comment

EURACTIV’s request for comment from the ICAO was not immediately answered.

The five MEPs pencilled in to attend were Brits Julie Girling (European Conservatives and Reformists) and Seb Dance (Socialists & Democrats), Germans Matthias Groote (S&D) and Peter Liese (European People’s Party), and Belgian EPP member Ivo Belet.

The MEPs, including Dutch Green Bas Eickhout, plan to travel to Montreal anyway. They will meet ICAO Secretary General Fang Liu for talks. None were available to comment when contacted by EURACTIV yesterday. Requests to Schulz’s office were also redirected. But sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the rejection.

Today (29 January), Girling said, “It’s disappointing that we won’t be able to join the formal meetings but we will be meeting will very senior members of ICAO and having many bilaterals. As the EU only has observer status at icao it is impossible to insist that MEPs are accredited.”

The Commission’s transport department informed the MEPs of the rejection. Allegations that the Juncker request was a month in the making could not be substantiated.

It is understood Juncker promised Schulz the Parliament would be kept informed of developments.

Officials said the European Union would have a representative at the CAEP meeting, but only with observer status.

Europe lagging?

Europe is calling for a considerably less ambitious carbon emissions standard for airplanes than the US in the new global push. The gap between the two proposals is greater than the annual emissions of most medium-sized European countries. 

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

The story, broken by The Guardian, drew a furious rebuke from CAEP Secretary Jane Hupe.

In a communication seen by EURACTIV, she wrote, “It is with dismay that yet again there has been a breach in the confidentiality of information developed by CAEP in the open media. […] This breach will not be taken lightly; we are already looking into it carefully,” she said.

Hupe warned, “The disrespect and abuse of the rules of engagement by some will require that stronger measures be taken to address such issues, which can even include the suspension of observership/membership.” 

>>Read: The greening of the airline industry

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.

Airlines make up 2% of worldwide CO2 emissions. But the doubling of passengers every 15 years has made it a growing source of greenhouse gases. Due to the strong link between the sector and fossil fuels, reducing its CO2 emission is a challenge. The problem of electricity storage rules out its use in the air, which thus leaves airline manufacturers, which have promised to stabilise their CO2 emissions by 2020, with few options.

  • 8-12 February: CAEP meeting

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