International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD)

Measures to Reduce Aviation, Shipping Emissions in the Spotlight


Efforts seeking to reduce emissions from the aviation and shipping sectors got a boost in recent weeks. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) adopted a new emissions standard for aircraft, and the European Commission put forward proposals addressing emissions from both the aviation and shipping sectors.

Emissions from the aviation and shipping sectors account for 2% and 2.5% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, respectively, and are projected to increase exponentially, making action in this sector directly relevant to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 13 (climate action).

ICAO Adopts CO2 Emissions Standard

Meeting at the ICAO headquarters in Montreal, Canada, the ICAO Council adopted the world’s first global design certification standard to govern carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions for any industrial sector. The standard will apply to new aircraft designs from 2020, and to aircraft designs already in production as of 2023. Aircraft already in production must meet the standard by 2028 to be produced, unless their designs are sufficiently modified. [ICAO Press Release]

CO2 emissions from aviation have been included in the EU emissions trading system (EU ETS) since 2012. The EU legislation, adopted in 2008, was designed to apply to emissions from flights from, to and within the European Economic Area (EEA), which includes the 28 EU member States, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. Being applied to both EU and non-EU airlines, the EU legislation sparked protests from airlines, manufacturers, trade groups and aviation officials from non-EU countries. These protesters argued that the EU legislation was extraterritorial and therefore illegal under international law. In response to a backlash from the aviation sector, and to allow time for negotiations on a global market-based measure through ICAO applying to aviation emissions, the EU ETS requirements were suspended for flights in 2012 to and from non-European countries. For the period from 2013-2016, the EU legislation was also amended so that only emissions from flights within the EEA fall under the EU ETS. According to the EU, the system has so far contributed to reducing the carbon footprint of the aviation sector by more than 17 million tonnes per year, with compliance covering over 99.5% of emissions.

In October 2016, the ICAO adopted the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) in an effort to stabilize aviation emissions at 2020 levels. After 2020, airlines will be required to offset any growth in their emissions by buying credits from projects that reduce emissions, such as forestry or renewable energy projects. The EU has previously announced that its members will participate in CORSIA during the voluntary phase.

In light of the achievement at ICAO to establish a global market-based measure, the European Commission has adopted a proposal that keeps the scope of the EU ETS to only include flights between airports in the EEA. The European Parliament and Council will discuss the European Commission’s proposal, with the aim of adopting a final decision by the end of 2017. [EC Press Release] [EC Proposal] [EC Emissions from Aviation] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on the Adoption of CORSIA]

EU Plans for Shipping Emissions Leave Port

The European Commission also considered emissions from international shipping in revising its EU ETS Directive. The Commission has approved a proposal that would require monitoring and reporting from large ships calling into ports in the EEA. Starting 1 January 2018, large ships, regardless of where they are registered, would have to monitor and report the ship’s emissions and other data related to its energy efficiency.

In mid-February, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) voted in support of accounting for emissions in EU ports and during voyages to and from EU ports. MEPs also proposed setting up a ‘maritime climate fund’ to compensate for and reduce maritime emissions, and noted the absence of a comparable system under the International Maritime Organization (IMO). The legislation will be discussed within the European Council, and then again by the European Parliament at a later date.

In January 2017, IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim wrote in a letter to the European Parliament that including the sector in the EU ETS “would seriously impact on the work of IMO to address GHG emissions from international shipping.”

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