The concerted opposition to the EU push towards forcing foreign airlines landing in Europe to become a part of its emissions trading scheme has led to an unexpected development, whose implications extend to setting the global climate agenda.
The US, which had so far rejected the scheme, now wants to resolve the trade dispute by suggesting a global cap and trade regime. It is included among the options being considered by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which last month also dropped consideration of an emissions trading system.
The US and EU policy shift comes immediately after the Rio+20 conference where the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities was reaffirmed, whereas the fundamental principle underpinning ICAO is that all aircraft operators are treated equally regardless of their country of origin.
The ICAO Council quietly adopted a resolution in 2010 agreeing to fuel efficiency improvements, working towards a global cap on emissions at 2020 levels, a long-term goal for the sector and differentiation based on capacity. These provisions reflect the negotiating position of developed countries laid out at Copenhagen in 2009.
The issue must also be seen in the context of trends in global emissions. Aviation emissions account for only 1% of global emissions whereas emissions from automobiles constitute over 15% of global emissions and account for half the increase in developed-country emissions since 1990, and are the fastest-growing emissions worldwide. For global carbon management, the focus should be on road transport.