Press release

[Press statement] New ICAO recommended standard for aircraft CO2 emissions is a missed opportunity on climate policy

The agreement announced February 8 in Montreal by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) on a performance standard for new aircraft to mandate improvements in fuel efficiency and reductions in carbon dioxide emissions is a missed opportunity to address the growing climate impacts of global aviation. Its achievement is mainly in laying groundwork for urgently needed policies to actually reduce those impacts.

The ICAO standard is a historic milestone, establishing the first binding targets for energy efficiency and CO2 reduction in the aviation sector. It does not detract from that achievement to note that in terms of effective, real-world reductions in carbon emissions from aircraft it falls short.

“ICAO agreed in 2011 that the standard had to reduce emissions. And yet the proposal will only require CO2 reductions from new aircraft of 4% over 12 years, when market forces alone are predicted to achieve more than a 10% efficiency gain in the same time frame. This is an anti-backsliding standard,” said Drew Kodjak, executive director of the ICCT.

“The standard that was agreed to in Montreal won’t directly reduce emissions. Coming as it does in the immediate wake of the Paris climate agreement, which didn’t even include global aviation, that is doubly regrettable,” said Dan Rutherford, ICCT’s program director for aviation. “It calls for about a third of the technically feasible efficiency improvements that we estimate will be available for new aircraft designs when the standard takes effect.”

The ICAO standard does put an essential foundation in place. “At the end of the day, we now do have a CO2 standard for aircraft. We can build on this agreement,” said Kodjak. “For that to happen, we need a formal mechanism through which to revise the standard, in the same spirit as the ‘ratcheting’ provisions of the Paris agreement. There should be an agreement to revisit this no later than the next meeting of ICAO’s Committee for Environmental Protection in 2019.”

The spotlight will now shift to the United States, where last year the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Endangerment Finding and Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) on aviation greenhouse gas emissions signaled the agency’s intent to adopt the ICAO CO2 standard, provided that the standard is consistent with the goal of requiring additional fuel efficiency improvements from domestic aircraft.

“The EPA has a range of options. Since the proposed standards only go into effect in 2028, the U.S. could implement the ICAO agreement on a more aggressive schedule, for example. Certainly it would make sense to consider other approaches, including potentially regulating airlines under the standard,” said Rutherford.

For ICCT’s detailed first take on the ICAO proposal, see our policy update.

Contacts: Dan Rutherford, Drew Kodjak