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NEWS Last modified on April 29, 2014

Aviation carbon emissions hotly debated at industry environment summit

ICAO’s landmark commitment to develop a global market-based measure for aviation carbon emissions, government and industry partnerships, and sustainable development were all on the agenda at the Global Sustainable Aviation Summit today.

Organised by the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG), the 7th aviation environment summit at the Hotel President Wilson in Geneva opened today and finishes tomorrow.

The hot topic was the decision made in September 2013 at the ICAO Assembly, where governments agreed to develop a measure by 2020, and the first summit session was devoted entirely to this.

The panel had contrasting opinions on the measure and whether it would make progress and be implemented and be agreed upon by governments, due to the wide ranging issues already raised by members from different nations.

The ICAO Assembly next meets in 2016, when members are aiming to come to a consensus on a process for market-based measure that can be implemented in aviation industries across the globe.

Prashant Sukul, India’s representative on the Council of ICAO, told delegates: “A protocol or a treaty will be needed to make it work due government differences.”

Sukul explains in his view though, that not much was achieved at the three ICAO summits that led on carbon emissions, and feels that more needs to be done.

He also says he thinks India and China will be ‘very much part of the process’, but adds issues need to be defined, although he was positive that the Environmental Advisory Group (EAG) has reached the point to resolve the issues that exist.

Carl Burleson, acting assistant administrator for policy, international affairs and environment at the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), disagreed with Sukul that a treaty would be needed, and showed faith in the ICAO being able to set the standards to be met and agreed upon and was opmistic a consensus will be reached.

“The US is pleased with the outcome at the last ICAO assembly on tackling aviation carbon emissions,” but adds the US wants data and analysis before issues are resolved and emission cutting targets are set.

Panellist Annie Petsonk, international counsel for the Environment Defence Fund, told delegates, dealing with climate change is 'essential' to the aviation industry's ability to grow.

Fellow panel member, Damien Meadows, advisor to the European Commission, also gave Europe’s commitment to the market-based solution, and adds: “The industry has delivered its proposals and now it is up to governments to deliver.”

In conclusion the panel all agreed that ICAO members had to make it work as it was the ‘only choice’ on the table for a collective process to cut carbon emissions emitted by the aviation industry, while the possibility of some nations being exempt would have to be assessed at length.

Session two of the summit, focused on government and industry partnerships on environment initiatives, and how they are and can further work together to reduce carbon emissions.

Jane Hupe, chief of the environmental branch at the ICAO, was positive about the governments will to work on emission saving initiatives: "A lot of governments are ready to move, but do not know where to go and how to act. They need help."

In the view of Jonathan Counsell, chairman of the Sustainable Aviation Council and head of environment at British Airways, alternative aviation fuels are a ‘game-changer’, but he says there needs to be more government involvement.

Asia Pacific is the fastest growing region for aviation and will have a massive impact on emissions, and Eileen Poh, director of international relations at the Civil Aviation Authority in Singapore, told delegates it is the region’s time for aviation growth.

But she adds the Asia Pacific aviation industry may need to 'change rules of the game' in order to meet demand and handle growth sustainably.

In session three entitled: Air transport’s value-added and aviation’s role in the sustainable development goals was hotly debated.

An engaging Brice Lolande, special advisor on sustainable development to the United Nations, told delegates he was ‘impressed’ with the work the aviation industry was doing to tackle carbon emissions, and urged other industries such as the coal industry to take note.

He adds: “But business must speak much louder on the need for aviation. Business and aviation are global - governments are not.”

Earlier in the day, Paul Steele, outgoing executive director of ATAG, gave a setting the scene speech before the sessions took place, and in it, he says the industry is on the 'right track' to achieving carbon neutral growth.

In 2013, the aviation industry emitted 705 million tonnes of carbon emissions, which represented 2-3% of the world emissions, but reduced it by 2% last year.

Around 250 delegates from 50 countries are representing the industry, governments and civil society at the talks, aiming to provide a long-term view of the growth of air transport around the world.

Tomorrow, the summit will see sessions on preparing for growth, the next 100 years and closing remarks, including from Angela Gittens, director general at the Airports Council International (ACI World).

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