Earth Day Network

Will New Aviation Deal Limit Carbon Emissions?

Maybe. Maybe not.

The International Civil Aviation Organization recently wrapped up a two-week long conference in Montreal where it developed the first international agreement by a single industry to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change. Aviation emissions currently represent around 2 percent of global carbon emissions, but as the industry continues to grow, that number is predicted to rise to 22 percent by 2050. These forecasts, combined with the recent adoption of the Paris Climate Agreement, created the pressure necessary for this agreement to be reached.

 

The agreement uses aviation emissions levels in 2020 as a benchmark and aims to reduce growth above that level by 80% until 2035. In order to achieve these reductions, airlines won’t necessarily have to reduce their emissions. They will also have the option of participating in carbon offsetting schemes. The first stage of the agreement begins in 2021 and goes until 2026. During this time period, participation is completely voluntary. However, sixty-five countries have already indicated that they intend to participate, including the U.S., China, and European Union Members. Participation becomes mandatory in 2027, although it’s worth noting that developing countries with small airline industries are exempt from the agreement.

 

Some environmentalists are voicing outrage over the agreement. They take issue with the voluntary period of the agreement, as well as the fact that airlines will be able to offset their emissions rather than having to reduce them through efficiency gains or use of biofuels, etc. Critics also mention that the deal hardly forces the airlines to pay anything for the pollution they emit. Airlines will be spending about $23 billion for offsetting programs between 2021 and 2035. However, the total cost of international aviation on climate change in that time frame is about $700 billion; meaning that airlines will only be offsetting 3 cents of every dollar of damage that they create.

 

Despite the weak agreement, a review clause could allow for strict standards to be implemented under the same agreement beginning in 2022. In all, the agreement paves the way for the most polluting industries to take responsibility for their carbon emissions.

 

Daniel Klein, Intern