Analysis: China protest sets stage for U.N. plane emissions debate

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MONTREAL, Oct 8 (Businesshala) – Major players in commercial aviation are backing a goal of net zero emissions by 2050, but high costs and opposition from China are hindering reaching the global climate target at the United Nations aviation meeting next fall .

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Major aircraft and engine manufacturers joined airlines gathering in Boston earlier this week to commit to the target, as aviation faces increasing pressure to reduce emissions from flights.

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But state-controlled Chinese airlines objected to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) meeting, saying that developing countries should not be held to the same standards as developed countries, reflecting a long-standing division that some Montreal will have by 2022. Let’s watch it as a dress rehearsal for the gathering.

The similar division seen in the IATA could make it difficult for countries to come together behind a common goal for aviation.

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Airlines want members of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to support a global long-term goal that influences governments to take action to achieve the goal, such as funding for the production of sustainable aviation fuel.

“ICAO is facing a huge challenge and its credibility is really on the line,” said Annie Petsonk, the US Department of Transportation’s principal deputy assistant secretary of aviation and international affairs.

The IATA’s 2050 plan requires large quantities of sustainable aviation fuel, but supplies are not widely available and are more expensive to produce than conventional jet fuel.

“If ICAO is able to identify and agree on a clear long-term aspirational goal, it will make a huge difference in indicating the direction toward meeting that goal,” Petsunk recently told a forum.

The ICAO cannot impose rules on governments, but has clout among its 193 member states.

Aviation was excluded from the 2015 Paris climate agreement, where countries agreed to limit the increase in global temperature to 2 °C (3.6 °F) above pre-industrial levels, and preferably 1.5 °C. To do that, scientists say the world needs to cut emissions from zero to zero by 2050.

Airline industry executives said IATA’s new commitment aligns the industry with the 1.5° target for the first time. Environmentalists say this is not enough. The association’s net-zero target comes weeks ahead of the UN COP26 global climate summit in Glasgow.

As for aviation, talks will take place at the ICAO gathering, where the West seeks a long-term goal backed by China, expected to be the largest aviation market by the end of this decade.

ICAO’s Governing Council is weighing the impact of the long-term goal on growth, and in particular on the cost of aviation for developing countries.

“We need a reasonable target,” Angie Eliazzi, a council member of the Egyptian ICAO, told an industry forum recently.

“The target should not be one-size-fits-all,” he said, following the notion of developed countries because they have produced more emissions in the past.

State carrier China Eastern (600115.SS) also called at the IATA this week to identify the challenges facing developing countries – one of the most divisive issues in previous climate talks.

“I think we’re going to see the same debate at ICAO during the next assembly,” said Dan Rutherford, aviation director of the International Council on Clean Transportation, a Washington-based environmental research group.

The United Nations says that more than 130 countries have set or are considering a target to reduce emissions to zero by 2050.

China instead aims to be “carbon neutral” by 2060, but scientists have said the target will not be enough to prevent the more severe effects of climate change.

“Next year it will be challenging to reach an agreement at ICAO,” said an aviation official involved in the talks. The controversies “need not always be technical, but political,” the official said.

Rutherford said that a follow-up by the Chinese carriers at IATA could bode well for the assembly of the ICAO, as their objections did not affect the outcome of the airlines’ meeting.

“The fact that they (Chinese carriers) decided not to hinder is important.”

Reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal; Editing by Peter Henderson


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