Climate Consensus: Failure by Incompetence or Design? – Part Two

The Official flag of the United Nations which represents 193 countries

In part one of this article we examined the role of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), a branch of the United Nations, in regulating aircraft emissions. This is a role they have had since the Kyoto protocol was adopted in 1997.

As detailed in part one, the ICAO have a decisive track record for failing to do the job that is – on the surface – required of them. We will now look ahead to the next ICAO triennial assembly that takes place in Montreal, Canada, later this month.

ICAO Triennial Assembly – 2016

The build up to this assembly has been in part dominated by the decision of the American Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in July to declare that jet engine exhaust fumes endanger public health. This is the first time they have made such a declaration.

Because of this ruling by the EPA, it means that along with the EU ETS scheme we have the appearance of member states applying pressure to the ICAO to facilitate a global solution to controlling and reducing aviation emissions. All in good time for the assembly this month.

As reported by The Guardian in July 2016:

Both the EPA and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), are developing regulations that will cut carbon emissions from commercial aircraft. The ICAO is expected to finalise its emissions standards in 2017, but the EPA could not proceed with developing its own standards in the US until it concluded that jet engine exhaust poses a public health threat.”

The article goes on to say that,

The proposed ICAO standards, supported by the US and 22 other countries, call for a 4% reduction in fuel consumption in new commercial aircraft built after 2028 and from aircraft currently in production delivered after 2023.”

So where does this leave us in terms of the assembly?

The ICAO are currently said to be working on two separate policies to address aircraft emissions by 2016. The first is a global market-based measure to put a price on carbon, and the second is a CO2 emissions efficiency standard for new airplanes.

This is the first time the ICAO have used the term ‘Global Market-Based Measure’. In years previous, they did not include the world ‘Global’. Now the emphasis is very much on aviation emissions needing a global solution to a global problem.

As reported on by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT):

If ICAO fails to deliver either policy, regional policies will take precedence in Europe (EU ETS) and the US (standards under the Clean Air Act). In any event, ICAO can make recommendations for standards, but member states must enforce them, as the US EPA is planning to do.”

This was reiterated by Carbon Pulse in March this year who said:

“The EU is due to bring non-European flights back under its emissions trading scheme from 2017 unless the bloc’s lawmakers extend the law’s suspension.

CO2 emissions from international aviation are expected to grow by at least 250% above 2005 levels by 2050, putting the sector firmly in the cross hairs of environmental campaigners and some governments.

Other countries and sub-national governments, including South Korea, China and Shanghai, are seeking to tackle the sector’s emissions via their carbon markets.”

An interesting aside to the ICAO’s two policies is an observation made by Energy Desk Greenpeace in May 2016, in regards to industry funding of the ICAO. Whilst they supposedly seek a global agreement on aviation emissions with member states, it has largely gone unchecked as to who makes donations to the organisation.

According to Energy Desk Greenpeace, aircraft manufacturer Boeing has contributed over $125,000 to the ICAO. A contribution that was,

“Consolidated into a larger donation of CA$381,300 made over a number of years by the company.

When contacted by Energydesk the ICAO said the money was earmarked for the organisation’s “capacity-building programmes” and was added to the ICAO’s safety fund.

The amount given by Boeing exceeds donations from some countries. Russia is listed on the ICAO’s website as giving a little under CA$150,000 to the body’s safety fund in 2015.”

Boeing defended their donations to the ICAO by declaring that,

“Like many nation states and other participants in our industry, Boeing actively promotes and supports initiatives that make air travel the safest form of travel in the history of transportation. That is the purpose of the contribution.”

It is not only funding of the ICAO that has come under scrutiny. Energy Desk Greenpeace also reported how the body’s 2009 working paper complained that observers on the legal committee were allowed to make motions and amendments, an act usually reserved for the representatives of a country provided they are seconded by two other member states.

The ICAO response to this complaint was to continue allowing observers to make motions and amendments on the legal committee, insisting that by doing so it would not impeach upon proceedings.

Taking funding and procedural abnormalities into consideration, as well as the litany of failure that has become the ICAO’s assembly’s, on what grounds can anyone believe that 2016 will be any different?

Prior to every gathering, the ICAO release a final draft text resolution which is put forward to member states when the assembly commences. This year’s text was released at the beginning of the month. Here is a breakdown of some of the main points, courtesy of a report from Green Air Online:

  1. The new text moves away from a mandatory scheme from the beginning to a voluntary pilot and first phase covering the first six years (2021-2026).
  2. The second mandatory phase, which would run from 2027 to the proposed end of the carbon offsetting scheme in 2035, would exempt least developed countries and those with the lowest share of international aviation activity.
  3. All ICAO Member States are “strongly encouraged to voluntarily participate as early as possible”.

Now that the ICAO have switched tack and proposed a voluntary scheme, it means new participants will be able to sign up on January the 1st of any given year, providing they give six months notice of their intention to join.

But, conversely, it also means participating states who joined the scheme earlier will have the right to opt out, with six months notice, if they so choose.

Does this lend credence to the argument that because the scheme is predicated on voluntary participation, it is not only fragile in nature but could potentially implode later on down the line if member states started to withdraw?

Should the resolutions proposed by the ICAO be adopted by its 191 member states, it would become the world’s first ever global agreement for international emissions spanning the entire industry sector. The scheme, if enacted, would be known as CORSIA (Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation).

No triennial assembly would be complete without a new, bureaucratically elaborate acronym.

One aspect that did not make it into the final text was a proposal to list volunteering states of the pilot and first phase in the annex to the resolution. However, there is speculation that China and the United States have agreed to join the new scheme from the outset. China’s inclusion, as well as that of Japan, Singapore and Brazil, is seen as crucial to ensuring environmental integrity and avoiding market-distorting loopholes.”

This brings things neatly round to the potential Geo-Political fall out from this assembly. Whilst China and the U.S. are apparently on board with the new scheme, it appears unlikely that India will be part of the initial phases.

Of key note also is doubt over the participation of Russia, who have long since opposed the idea of carbon offsetting.


In Part three of this article, we will look beyond the ICAO triennial assembly’s and examine the perspective that efforts to curb aviation emissions have been designed to fail from the very beginning.

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