Aviation emissions deal takes off

Last week, members of the International Civil Aviation Organisation agreed to implement a cap on global carbon emissions for air travel.

Last week the aviation industry announced an historic deal to curb carbon emissions. Members of the International Civil Aviation Organisation committed to cap carbon dioxide emissions from international flights at 2020 levels. This ground-breaking deal represents the first global carbon cap on an industry’s total carbon emissions.

The deal for the aviation industry emerges at a pivotal time as it adapts to the risks and opportunities presented by climate change and begins to reveal a plan for a low carbon future. The announcement came just hours after the Paris Climate Agreement reached the threshold to take effect, after the European Union, India and Canada all formally ratified the deal. As a result of their cross-border nature, international flights were not included in the Paris Agreement but the sector deal addresses this gap.

Why it matters?
Air travel is the world’s fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions. In 2015 global air travel produced 781 million tonnes of CO2. To put this into perspective, this is roughly the same as Germany’s emissions for the same year. Despite the significant improvement in aircraft fuel efficiency, growth in the demand for flights mean emissions are growing fast.

How will it work?
Under the deal, airlines will be required to cap their emissions at 2020 levels or offset any emissions over this limit. Airlines will be able to purchase "emission units" generated by projects reducing CO2 emissions in other sectors of the economy including those from renewable energy.

It’s hoped that the deal will further drive innovation in aircraft and fuel technologies and provide a clear compliance framework for the industry. Whilst the deal will be voluntary until 2026, most major nations are expected to take part. So far the agreement has been backed by 65 countries which represent 86.5% of international flight operations but questions remain about whether the deal goes far enough. EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc welcomed the announcement saying ‘sustainability finally becomes part of the way we fly’ but ‘it is not mission accomplished.’ In particular, the scheme faces criticism that the reduction targets are not stretching enough, and emissions abatement will not materialise without universal uptake across all nations and good governance on the quality of the offsets.

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