Monday 11 December 2017

'Unprecedented' deal to curb air travel emissions agreed

Are 'green flights' a myth?

An airplane approaches London Heathrow. Photo: Deposit
An airplane approaches London Heathrow. Photo: Deposit

Emily Beament

An "unprecedented" international deal that aims to curb greenhouse gas emissions from air travel has been agreed.

The deal, secured at International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) talks in Montreal, Canada, will come into effect from 2021 with 65 countries - including all European Union nations - signing up to "offset" emissions from international flights.

More countries are set to come on board from 2027 with the mandatory phase of the scheme, which aims to cap aviation emissions at 2020 levels, and there is a review mechanism to strengthen ambition.

Airlines will have to buy permits that deliver reductions in pollution elsewhere to cover emissions that are above 2020 levels.

The European Union, which played a key role in the talks, estimates some 80pc of emissions growth will be covered by the deal up to 2035.

Industry under pressure

The aviation industry had been under pressure to take action on greenhouse gases from international flights, which were not explicitly covered by the world's first comprehensive climate treaty, the Paris Agreement, which comes into force next month.

The new deal was welcomed as an historic moment in tackling climate change, but there were warnings it needed to go further to bring down emissions in line with targets to curb temperature rises set out in the Paris Agreement.

And in the UK, campaigners renewed their calls for the Government not to approve new runways - a decision on which is expected shortly.

British Aviation Minister Lord Ahmad said: "This is an unprecedented deal, the first of its kind for any sector.

"International aviation is responsible for putting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year than the whole of the UK and yet until now, there has been no global consensus on how to address the growing problem of aviation emissions.

"For years, the UK has pushed to tackle aviation emissions globally. Now, 191 countries have agreed on a global measure and sent a clear message that aviation will play its part in combating climate change."

Historic moment hailed

Emma Pinchbeck, head of climate and energy at WWF-UK said: "This is another historic moment for action on climate change.

"The UK has been a leader in these talks so it would be disappointing to see ministers immediately green-light airport expansion at home. Our Government must walk the talk on climate change.

"Building new runways would send UK aviation emissions soaring above safe limits, so first we need a credible UK plan to deal with those emissions."

Tim Alderslade, chief executive of the British Air Transport Association (Bata), the trade body for UK airlines, said: "The scheme agreed at ICAO will play a pivotal role in enabling UK aviation to meet its goal of achieving carbon neutral growth from 2020 whilst halving net emissions by 2050."

Hundreds of new aircraft were helping increase fuel efficiency and reduce carbon emissions, he said.

He said the deal would "complement this effort and enable aviation growth to continue - with all the associated economic and social advantages - whilst ensuring that emissions are reduced".

Is green aviation a myth?

But Bill Hemmings, from campaign group Transport and Environment, said: "Airline claims that flying will now be green are a myth.

"Taking a plane is the fastest and cheapest way to fry the planet and this deal won't reduce demand for jet fuel one drop. Instead offsetting aims to cut emissions in other industries."

He warned it was not yet "mission accomplished", adding: "Without robust environmental safeguards the offsets won't cut emissions, leaving us with a deal that amounts to little more than adding the price of a cup of coffee to a ticket."

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