The 39th session of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) General Assembly has resulted in an unprecedented agreement on limiting international aviation emissions.
ICAO member States, in cooperation with industry and civil society representatives, have come to a consensus on a global market-based measure (GMBM) known as the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA).
The mechanism is the first adopted by an entire industry sector to curb carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from international activity.
7 October 2016: The 39th session of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) General Assembly has resulted in an unprecedented agreement on limiting international aviation emissions. ICAO member States, in cooperation with industry and civil society representatives, have come to a consensus on a global market-based measure (GMBM) known as the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA). The mechanism is the first adopted by an entire industry sector to curb carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from international activity.
When the Paris Agreement on climate change was adopted by Parties to the UNFCCC in December 2015, it did not include mention of the international aviation sector. The ICAO Assembly responded to international pressure to design a plan for the sector’s contribution to global efforts to combat climate change with the development of a GMBM and the final adoption of CORSIA during its 39th Assembly, held 27 September – 7 October 2016, in Montréal, Canada.
The adoption of CORSIA follows preparations taking place throughout most of 2016. ICAO’s Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection (CAEP) conducted technical work early in the year, the Global Aviation Dialogues (GLADs) gathered feedback on a draft of the MBM scheme, and member States continued consultations throughout the Northern summer, with many announcing their support for the pact in the weeks leading up to the Assembly.
Opening the Assembly, ICAO Council President Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu noted the “path to an MBM for international aviation has been a complex one, for all concerned, but it has also been a process characterized by a high-level of political will and a clear motivation among State and industry parties to realize a practical and consensus-driven global approach.”
In the final, agreed version, participation in both the pilot phase (2021-2023) and first phase (2024-2026) is voluntary. The subsequent phase (2027-2035) would bring all States on board, though exemptions were agreed for least developed countries (LDCs), small island developing States (SIDS), landlocked developing countries (LLDCs) and States with minimal international aviation activity.
Governments of countries whose civil aviation amounts to 80% of international flights have already indicated they will participate in the voluntary phases, according to Aliu. The EU was among those that indicated its willingness to participate from the very beginning through the Bratislava Declaration, adopted on 9 September 2016.
The EU also signed a Declaration of Intent with ICAO, renewing their collaboration on climate change the day before the start of the 39th Assembly. Through its partnership with ICAO, the EU provided €6.5 million beginning in 2013 to assist 14 African and Caribbean States implement action plans on CO2 reductions. With the new commitment to expand the environmental benefits achieved so far, the EU “shows its readiness to stand by ICAO member States and support their capacity-building activities,” including in light of the adoption of the MBM, according to EU Commissioner for Transport Violeta Bulc.
International aviation contributes 1.3% of global anthropogenic CO2 emissions, according to ICAO. ICAO Secretary General Fang Liu underlines that emissions-reduction measures, including the GMBM, innovative technologies, streamlined operations and procedures, and sustainable alternative aviation fuels, as well as other environmental policies under ICAO, along with the economic benefits of international civil aviation, are crucial to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). ICAO also stresses that “sustainable aviation is predicated on compliance with ICAO standards and recommended practices (SARPs), including throughout periods of intense growth.”
Over 2,000 ministers and other high-ranking government officials attended the 39th Assembly. Besides adopting CORSIA, the Assembly endorsed the second edition of the Global Aviation Safety Plan (GASP) and the fifth edition of the Global Air Navigation Plan (GANP). In the context of economic development, ICAO member States also considered future work on the development of a Global Air Transport Plan. In addition, the Assembly directed the ICAO Council to task the Aviation Security Panel to develop the Global Aviation Security Plan (GASeP) and present it for Council approval and consultations by the second half of 2017.
Prior to the start of the Assembly, the second ICAO World Aviation Forum (WAF) convened on 26 September, focusing on accelerating the implementation of capacity building for executing international civil aviation global standards and policies, such as through the No Country Left Behind (NCLB) initiative. Affirming the critical role safe, secure and efficient air transport plays in socioeconomic development, the WAF’s Concluding Communiqué focuses on cooperation to provide the finance and other resources needed for capacity building and acknowledges that NCLB will ultimately contribute to realizing international development priorities and the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in particular.
With a focus on airports’ contributions to urban socioeconomic development, ICAO and UN-Habitat inked an agreement during the WAF in support of the 2030 Agenda. With a focus on modernized aviation infrastructure to ensure efficient movement of people and goods, the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) will kick-off a pilot at five airports in Africa. Increased cooperation among civil aviation, land, planning and urban development authorities, international organizations, airlines and aircraft manufacturers is expected to result, with the ultimate outcome a set of global guidelines for enhancing sustainable development through coordination among airports and their host cities. The final agreement between the two UN agencies will be signed at the Third Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat-III) in October 2016. [ICAO Press Release on Agreement on GMBM] [European Commission Meeting Announcement] [39th Assembly Webpage] [IISD RS Story on Chinese, European, US Support for ICAO MBM] [IISD RS Story on GLADs] [IISD Policy Update on International Transport] [ICAO Press Release on Civil Aviation’s Role for SDGs] [ICAO Press Release on Importance of SARPs] [ICAO Press Release on ICAO-EU Declaration of Intent] [ICAO Press Release on Expected Adoption of MBM] [ICAO Press Release on WAF] [WAF Concluding Communiqué] [ICAO Press Release on ICAO-UN-Habitat MOU] [UN Press Release]