The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) held a staff-only briefing on greenhouse gas emissions from the aviation sector, the potential for an international agreement through the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), and future opportunities for the United States.

Aviation is responsible for 2 percent of total global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and 13 percent of total transportation-related emissions, and it is forecasted that aviation emissions will continue to grow. The global airline industry has set a goal of carbon-neutral growth after 2020 and of 50 percent reductions in CO2 emissions by 2050 from 2005 levels. ICAO, as the specialized UN agency for international civil aviation, has been at the forefront of developing policies and standards to address the effects of international aviation operations on the environment.

  • Samuel Grausz, Director of Policy and Research at Climate Advisers, began the briefing by noting that aviation emissions are projected to increase in the coming decades, which will have a significant impact on local air quality.
  • The aviation industry is a major player in the global economy, responsible for 10 million jobs and $1 trillion annually.
  • He noted ways that we can reduce emissions cost-effectively while maintaining the industry's competitiveness, including further investment in research and development; market-based mechanisms; energy efficiency improvements; and standards for new engines.
  • Jane Hupe, Chief of the Environmental Branch at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), emphasized that policy plays a very important role in attaining aviation emissions standards. The ICAO is looking at various policies to address aviation emissions, but nothing has been agreed upon globally.
  • The ICAO has three central environmental goals:
    - Limit or reduce the number of people affected by significant aircraft noise
    - Limit or reduce the impact of aviation emissions on local air quality
    - Limit or reduce the impact of aviation greenhouse gas emissions on the global climate
  • An internationally standardized Market-Based Measure (MBM) is needed for all airlines in order to prevent a patchwork of unilateral regulations. The ICAO requested that each of the 191 member states develop and submit an action plan for reducing international aviation emissions in order to see how in alignment they are.
  • Julie Oettinger, Assistant Administrator for Policy in International Affairs and Environment at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), noted that the United States is a leader in aviation sustainability. Since 2000, the American airline industry has seen a net reduction in emissions despite carrying an increasing number of passengers and cargo.
  • The FAA is pursuing initiatives that drive down aviation energy usage, in particular through public-private partnerships. Airplanes have been shown to work with alternative fuels; challenges include attaining commercial availability and viable fuel prices.
  • The United States has voiced serious concerns over its inclusion in the European Union's Emissions Trading System (ETS), which includes aviation emissions. The FAA is pursuing a dual strategy of raising their concerns directly with Europe, and focusing on working positively with ICAO to address aviation emissions.
  • Annie Petsonk, International Counsel for Climate and Air at the Environmental Defense Fund, outlined why a global MBM is necessary to achieve ICAO goals. Uniformity is very important for the development of the aviation industry – there are currently 10,000 standards for all airlines under ICAO.
  • 28,000 new large aircraft will be added to the global fleet by 2040, which will further increase emissions. According to Petsonk, biofuels and other technologies are not going to be enough to reach a goal of carbon-neutral growth beginning in 2020; a standard MBM is needed, and U.S. leadership on this issue is crucial.
  • Nancy Young, Vice President of Environmental Affairs at Airlines for America, reported that U.S. airlines have improved fuel efficiency 120 percent since 1978.
  • Young said fuel and emissions efficiency can be further improved through technology, operations, and infrastructure. Nonetheless, the industry needs a combined target that all countries can aim for, namely 1.5 percent annual average efficiency improvements through 2020, a 50 percent reduction in emissions in 2050 relative to 2005, and carbon neutral growth beginning in 2021.
  • According to Young, there has been a proliferation of harmful MBM measures in recent years, such as the UK Passenger Duty, the German Departure Tax, and U.S. Congress proposals for carbon taxes. The ICAO needs to outline a single framework to reduce aviation emissions that all countries can agree upon which will not impede the industry.

Speaker Slides