October 15, 2010
On October 9th 2010, the 192 member governments of the ICAO have agreed on a resolution to address C02 emissions from air traffic, which has rightly been dubbed “historic”. It calls upon
• a 2 percent annual improvement of fuel efficiency up to 2050;
• the development of C02 standards of aircraft engines by 2013;
• the development of a framework of market-based-measures for the reduction of emissions:
• a global framework for the development of sustainable alternative fuels.
The strategy will thus be based on the two indispensable elements of any effective climate action: higher energy efficiency and alternative energy sources, the potentials of which the industry had carefully explored before setting its objectives.
The action by the aircraft industry constitutes the first successful sector approach to climate change. Similar approaches for maritime traffic and deforestation are under preparation and likely to get a boost through the agreement of the air craft industry.
The consensus achieved by the aircraft industry is the result of more than three years preparation, during which the ICAO could count on the determination of its leaders to act and the support of a professional staff. In view of rapidly rising air traffic and emissions those responsible in the industry were fully aware of the need to act, if only to avoid uncoordinated actions by governments, like the one the EU will start implementing as of 2012.
The method of elaboration contains useful lessons for the disappointing UN efforts to cope with climate change. Rather than preparing their resolution with all 192 parties around the table the ICAO relied on an incremental approach. A working group of only 15 government officials representing all ICAO regions laid the groundwork. In October 2009, a high-level meeting with representatives from 73 member states, representing 94 percent of commercial air traffic, approved the basic elements of the resolution to be adopted one year later.
Thus they succeeded thanks to professionalism, excellent technical knowledge of the industry and above all a shared conviction of industry leaders to act in a pragmatic approach.
The latter allowed them also to find a compromise on the issue of monitoring and reporting that has kept festering UN climate negotiations for the last few years: under the ICAO resolution, states will report data on aviation fuel consumption and submit action plans for policies on a voluntary basis.
One may consider the objectives as insufficient in view of the expected rapid rise of air traffic; but with biofuels and fuel efficiency it should be possible to achieve a substantial reduction of C02 emissions from air traffic during the coming decades. In setting the framework a major global industry has shown courage and given a signal to go ahead without waiting for a comprehensive global climate agreement that might never see the day.
The ICAO resolution gives a boost to those pleading for an alternative approach to that followed without success by the UNFCCC, hampered by politics and a lack of pragmatic professionalism.
The international community should therefore change the cap and engage in sector approaches similar to that adopted by the ICAO. These will bring together people from the same industry, confronted with identical or similar problems:
• Deforestation is already in the pipeline and only waiting for a deal on the operational aspects.
• Maritime shipping should be the next one, though it will be more difficult to find enough sustainable alternative fuels.
• Utilities generating electricity should follow. They share identical objectives: enhance energy efficiency and replace coal by green sources or carbon capture and storage.
• The automobile industry should also find it relatively easy to reach a basic agreement, considering the ongoing revolution in automotive technology and the rapid globalisation of the industry.
• The construction industry, responsible for the some 25 percent of C02 emissions resulting from inadequate thermal insulation of buildings, will find it much more difficult to come to terms due to its lack of concentration and the diversity of climatic conditions. It better wait for the outcome of other sectors with less structural difficulties.
By tackling these four sectors the international community would address about two thirds of human C02 emissions.
The EU should therefore propose a serious debate on how best to address climate change at the forthcoming Cancun Climate Conference.
Brussels 12. 10. 10 Eberhard RheinAuthor : Eberhard Rhein