ICAO meet approves launch of CO{-2}emission reduction scheme by 2020

The European Union (EU) will not be permitted to unilaterally impose carbon emission tax on flights from other countries entering its airspace. The blow to EU’s plans of launching its scheme targeting not just its own fliers but also flight operators from other countries came at the assembly of 191 member countries of the U.N. International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) in Montreal on October 4.

The ICAO assembly also approved the launch of a market and trading-based carbon dioxide emission reduction scheme by 2020. The scheme would be negotiated by 2016, when the ICAO assembly meets next. India was able to insert caveats to this decision to ensure that any such scheme is only applicable on a voluntary basis and respects respective capacities of the countries involved to bear the brunt of emission reduction.

Greenhouse gas emissions from aviation account for 2% of the total annual emissions. Dealing with these emissions along with that of the shipping industry under the climate convention has been difficult because apportioning of responsibility for emissions over countries has remained a piquant problem.

The meeting brought significant victory for India and other BRICS countries — Brazil, South Africa, Russia and China — who strongly opposed the EU move along with others such as Argentina to unilaterally impose carbon levy on flights landing in Europe. The proposal by EU had threatened to turn into a full scale trade war. Under pressure, EU put its scheme imposing the carbon tax on flights in abeyance for a year and tried to get it endorsed at the ICAO meeting, which would have got it a global stamp of legitimacy.

Under the proposed EU scheme any flight entering its airspace would be taxed for the emissions spewed from the point of origin to the point of landing. The move irked China, India and Russia the most. Both China and India ordered its carriers to not adhere to the EU directives. They took strong opposition to the unilateral move that not only raised questions about sovereignty over airspace but also broke the principles of common but differentiated responsibility under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

At the ICAO meeting in Montreal, the EU faced a embarrassing defeat as a majority of African nations voted repeatedly with the BRICS countries to block the European plans — a move that a confident EU had not foreseen at the beginning of the talks.

The BRICS countries were able to win over the crucial support of many African countries after they proposed a more favourable formula to keep small aviation companies out of the ambit of the emission reduction targets — an arrangement that was bound to suit the fledgling flight operators from the continent. In turn a host of African countries stuck with the Indian and other BRICS countries’ move to not let ICAO endorse EU's plans of unilateral carbon taxation.

The U.S. opposed the move for EU to tax a flight for the entire distance of travel — from point of origin to the point of landing in Europe — but it didn’t mind EU taxing flights for the carbon emitted while flying over airspace of the EU member States. India and other BRICS nations were absolutely opposed to such an interpretation of international rules of civil aviation.

The BRIC countries won a clear victory on the EU aviation tax proposal but had to soften their stand a bit on the global market-based mechanism to be launched in 2020 in order to keep the U.S. on their side of the divide in the meeting. The ICAO has now decided to negotiate the mechanism which will allow countries to engage in a carbon trading scheme but has agreed to consider the feasibility and practicability of the scheme as a criteria before finalising the arrangements — a demand India and others was keen upon.

  • Under EU scheme any flight entering its airspace would be taxed for emissions

  • BRICS countries won the crucial support of many African countries

  • European Union’s proposal to impose carbon emission tax on flights turned down