Deal on carbon emissions up in the air

Concerns over three proposals to be debated at international conference later this year

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 February, 2013, 3:09am

The clock is ticking for global airlines to come up with a plan to cut carbon emissions ahead of a top-level government meeting later this year.

Mainland Chinese carriers are already concerned about three options tabled by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) for discussion at the assembly in September of the organisation's 190 member states.

The three options are buying credit to offset carbon emissions, carbon offsetting plus putting a price on the amount of carbon being offset, and a full global emissions trading scheme.

"Whichever option is chosen, the devil will be in the details," Tony Tyler, the director general and chief executive of the International Air Transport Association, said at the Greener Skies conference yesterday.

"It is critically important to ensure that the agreement preserves fair competition."

Whichever option is chosen, the devil will be in the details. It is critically important to ensure that the agreement preserves fair competition

About 240 airline members in Iata have agreed on an industrywide approach to have carbon-neutral growth from 2020 and half the 2005 level of emissions in 2050. But allocating responsibility for carbon offsetting among carriers from developed and developing nations is complicated.

"Eighty per cent of greenhouse gases are emitted by developed countries so they should make greater efforts," said Wei Zhenzhong, the secretary general of the China Aviation Transport Association.

The European Union suspended application of its carbon credit trading scheme on non-European airlines for a year after the proposal came under attack from nations outside Europe.

Beijing ordered all mainland Chinese carriers not to comply with the scheme. Wei said Chinese carriers were not content with the ICAO's proposals and wanted the rules fine-tuned.

China was seeking rules that would take into account the higher growth of mainland Chinese carriers, sources close to the situation said.

The preferential approach would include longer phasing in periods for carriers in developing countries, and allowing carriers to buy carbon credits from certified environmental projects in developing countries, said Paul Steele, an executive director of the Air Transport Action Group.

A more controversial adjustment would be to allow the routes to and from developing or less-developed regions to enjoy lower carbon offsetting requirements, Steele added.

But that suggestion was expected to be rejected by developed countries.

Jos Delbeke, the director general of climate action at the European Commission, warned that if the ICAO could not agree on market-based measures, the EU will turn to the World Trade Organisation for further action.