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First-Ever Global Aircraft Emissions Deal Reached

Airplane sunsetThe UN’s aviation arm ratified the first-ever global limits on commercial aircraft emissions yesterday.

At a meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organization in Montreal, delegates finalized a deal that will use airlines’ 2020 emissions as the benchmark and require the industry to offset about 80 percent of emissions above 2020 levels by 2035.

The carbon offsetting system will be phased in starting in 2021 on a voluntary basis and will become mandatory for all countries, excluding the least developed countries and nations with very low levels of aviation activity, in 2027. Sixty-five countries, including the US, have already pledged to participate in the voluntary phases.

The airline industry is supporting the deal even though estimates put the total cost to the industry between $5.3 billion to $23.9 billion a year by 2035. In comparison, airlines spent $181 billion on fuel last year.

Trade association Airlines for America said having a single, global market-based system is important and will prevent countries from imposing unilateral measures on international aviation, such as the European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme.

“We applaud ICAO and its member nations from around the world for reaching a global agreement to address climate change in support of our commitment to achieving carbon neutral growth in international aviation from 2020,” said A4A vice president Nancy Young in a statement. “Having a single, globally agreed market-based measure for international aviation ensures its role as a complement to our considerable technology, sustainable alternative aviation fuels, operations and infrastructure initiatives, sending a clear message that airlines will remain a green engine of economic growth into the future.”

While some environmental groups including the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions Environmental Defense Fund welcomed the aircraft emissions deal as a step forward in combating climate change — EDF estimates the system will eliminate about 2.5 billion metric tons of emissions — some said it doesn’t go far enough to limit pollution.

“This dangerous shell game does little more than help airlines hide their rapidly growing threat to our climate,” said Vera Pardee, a Center for Biological Diversity attorney who has sued the US federal government over aviation emissions.

The aircraft emissions deal comes a day after the Paris climate agreement crossed the threshold for adoption now that more than 55 countries, accounting for over 55 percent of global emissions, have ratified the deal. It will enter force on Nov. 4.

The aviation industry doesn’t have its own carbon reduction targets under the Paris climate deal.


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