Market Based Approach to Reduce Worldwide Greenhouse Gas Emissions Approved by United Nation's Aviation Agency

After two weeks of negotiations, a deal was reached at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) meeting in Montreal. The assembly of nations agreed to develop a market based approach by 2016 to be implemented in 2020. This resolution encourages countries to create new aircraft technology, adopt carbon dioxide standards, and utilize sustainable alternatives to jet fuel. Further, the measure promotes the engagement of member states in talks about the design of new carbon markets and the implementation of existing programs. This resolution makes air transport the first major industry sector to have a global model in controlling greenhouse gas emissions. The air transport industry currently accounts for 2 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions with projections of higher emissions by 2050.

As discussed in this blog previously, the European Union has been a leader in the effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and a driving force behind ICAO’s decision to address emissions on a global scale. On October 16, the European Commission relaxed its own controversial emissions regulations which would have included all flights to, from, and between European Union airports in the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS). A proposed directive by the European Commission to the member states and the European Parliament would require inclusion of only the portions of flights that take place in EU airspace to be included in the ETS. The directive would amend the ETS to include international flights by foreign airlines. Although not as burdensome as the original plan, it is possible that Indian, Chinese, Russian, and Unites States’ based airlines will still refuse to comply.

As this issue progresses, please check back to this blog for future posts.

Special thanks to Sullivan & Worcester’s Emma Spath, Environmental Intern, for assistance in preparing this post.

ICAO Council Compromises on International Aviation Emissions

Last week, the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a permanent body comprised of thirty-six ICAO members, met in Montreal to discuss international aviation emissions. This meeting proceeded the September 24 – October 4, 2013 meeting of the full ICAO membership. The Council agreed to a temporary framework that would allow regional emissions trading systems to regulate portions of flights in their airspace.  In contrast to the European Union’s (EU) earlier attempt to regulate the full distance of all flights taking off or landing in the EU, this new agreement would allow regulation only of the flight portion in EU airspace. This agreement fell short of what many had hoped for – the adoption of a global, market-based system to reduce carbon emissions. The Council did agree, however, that such a comprehensive international plan would be secured by 2020. The agreement still must be approved by the full ICAO membership later this month at the Assembly.

In the end, the agreement is a compromise between the EU, which desires stronger emissions standards, and countries such as the United States and China, who have pushed to find a global solution. Hopefully, the Council’s decision will keep the peace until a global management plan is developed.


As this issue progresses, please check back to this blog for future posts.

Aviation Industry Considers the Use of More Biofuels to Cut Emissions and Reduce Costs

As reported in earlier posts, non-European Union airlines may soon be subject to the EU Emissions Trading System (“ETS”). As airlines face pressure to reduce carbon emissions and to cut their $200 billion annual fuel bill, many are weighing the advantages of using more aviation biofuels, in addition to employing improved fuel efficient designs and materials. Yesterday, United Airlines made the first domestic commercial flight from Houston, Texas to Chicago, Illinois powered by a biofuel blend from San-Francisco based Solazyme, Inc., which is 60 percent traditional jet fuel and 40 percent algae-based biofuel. In addition, on Wednesday, Alaska Airlines plans to begin 75 regular passenger flights from Seattle, Washington to Portland, Oregon and to Washington, D.C. fueled by a 20 percent biofuel blend made from used cooking oil. (Chicago Tribune)  

Last month, another airline announced its plans to fly its passengers on a waste gas-based fuel by 2014, thus cutting its carbon footprint in half. Virgin Atlantic Airways plans to be the first airline to use waste gas from industrial steel production to move well beyond its initial pledge of a 30 percent carbon reduction per passenger by 2020. Virgin is a pioneer in this area, flying a Boeing 747 from London to Amsterdam in 2008 on a mixture of babassu oil and coconut oil and stands to be a leader moving forward. (Environmental Leader)   

Biofuels, however, are not without critics, as biofuels often are produced from first-generation edible crops or from plants that consume arable land that would have otherwise been used for edible crops. To solve this dilemma, the aviation industry is turning to other plant sources that grow in arid conditions as well as municipal organic waste to convert into aviation fuel.

Commercial airlines are certainly moving toward taking advantage of biofuels. It is only a matter of time before business and corporate aircrafts follow. As this issue progresses please check back to this blog for future posts.