aviation,  Carbon,  Climate change

No real progress at ICAO on reducing carbon emissions

At the close of the 38th session of International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) on Friday the ICAO States committed the organisation to develop a global market-based measure (MBM) to limit the growth of international aviation emissions.

The key paragraph is 5 on page 13:

“Resolves that States and relevant organizations will work through ICAO to achieve a global annual average fuel efficiency improvement of 2 per cent until 2020 and an aspirational global fuel efficiency improvement rate of 2 per cent per annum from 2021 to 2050, calculated on the basis of volume of fuel used per revenue tonne kilometre performed”.

This commitment is purely aspirational and voluntary

  1. Paragraph 5 does not “attribute specific obligations to individual States, and the different circumstances, respective capabilities and contribution of developing and developed States to the concentration of aviation GHG emissions in the atmosphere will determine how each State may voluntarily contribute to achieving the global aspirational goals”
  2. without any attribution of specific obligations to individual States, ICAO will “strive to achieve a collective medium term global aspirational goal of keeping the global net carbon emissions from international aviation from 2020 at the same level, taking into account: the special circumstances and respective capabilities of States, in particular developing countries; the maturity of aviation markets; the sustainable growth of the international aviation industry; and that emissions may increase due to the expected growth in international air traffic until lower emitting technologies and fuels and other mitigating measures are developed and deployed”; (Para 7)
  3. ICAO will also encourage air traffic management modernization, acceleration of the use of fuel-efficient aircraft technologies, and the development and deployment of sustainable alternative fuels. (Para 8)


The States requested the Council “to explore the feasibility of a long term global aspirational goal for international aviation, through conducting detailed studies assessing the attainability and impacts of any goals proposed, including the impact on growth as well as costs in all countries, especially developing countries’ (para. 10)

The scheme will now be designed in order to be finalised in 2016.

I think what this means is that there an intent to increase fuel efficiency by 2% per annum to 2020, but without penalties for failure AND an aspirational goal of stabilising global net carbon emissions from international aviation from 2020. There may or may not be an agreement in 2016.

This was predictably hailed by the aviation industry as an historic and landmark agreement. It looks more like a backward step to me.

The EU appears to have dropped its plans to apply the EU Emissions Trading Scheme to foreign carriers travelling to and from European airports when within European airspace. An EU amendment to permit this under the ICAO Charter was lost on Thursday in a key vote called by Russia, China, India and other developing States.

It is worth remembering that TUI Travel currently reports its airlines’ carbon emissions per revenue passenger kilometre (gCO2/RPK), this a frequently used standard, but there is no standard way of reporting carbon efficiency , some airlines are still not reporting their carbon emissions.

In their latest Sustainable Holidays Report, TUI Travel announced that it had reached its target of reducing absolute and relative carbon emissions by 6% two years early, and they have now set a stretch target of reducing TUI Travel’s airlines’ per passenger carbon emissions by 9% by 2015 over a 2008 base line.

As Jean Leston, Transport Policy Officer for WWF-UK has argued that by “handicapping and restricting” the EU carbon scheme, “ICAO has once again allowed skyrocketing emissions to continue climbing. More on the debate

The ICAO text can be found at

We shall be addressing this debate during the Responsible Tourism programme at World Travel Market

At WTM November there is a panel on Tuesday 5th at 13:00 on decarbonising travel and tourism, Chaired by Martin Brackenbury we’ll be looking at how consumers might be empowered to make less carbon polluting choices, at what tour operators, hoteliers and  airlines can do to reduce carbon pollution.

On Wednesday 6th at 10:30 there is a round table question time with Stephen Sackur, of Hard Talk, quizzing three industry leaders about what the industry is doing and about what more could be done: the three panellists are Gerald Lawless, President and Group Chief Executive Officer, Jumeirah Group,  Johan Lundgren, Deputy Chief Executive TUI Travel PLC, and  Marthinus van Schalkwyk, Minister of Tourism in the Cabinet of South Africa; former Minister of Environment who led the SA delegation to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations for five years.

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