Aviation CO2 emissions to be dealt with next year at ICAO

Environmental Climate solutions

Paris, 12 December 2015 – At the conclusion of the COP21 Climate Talks in Paris, the aviation sector, represented by the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG) made the following statement:

“The Paris Agreement provides an ambitious and far-reaching response by governments to dealing with climate change. This is a significant step forward for the world and will provide positive momentum for aviation market-based measure discussions taking place in the lead up to the 39th Assembly of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in September 2016.

“We were surprised by the lack of mention of ICAO’s responsibility to address aviation emissions (and IMO’s for maritime) in the final Paris Agreement, despite appearing in previous drafts. Nonetheless, ICAO already has its own mandate and well-established programme for further addressing aviation and climate change, without the need for direction from COP21 or the UNFCCC.

“We now appeal to governments meeting at ICAO to redouble their efforts in progressing a global market-based measure for the aviation sector – a key element of a comprehensive package of measures to address aviation’s climate impact. The aviation industry will continue to promote and support the work taking place at ICAO and encourages governments meeting there to increase their engagement and ambition to reach agreement.

“The Paris Agreement provides important key building blocks, including support for international carbon markets and the use of forestry as a source of offsets. The aviation sector will need access to high-quality offsets as it develops the global market-based measure. Importantly, it also provides clarity for differentiation between States which will enable governments to deliver a fit-for-purpose global measure for our sector.

“In the meantime, the industry is continuing the significant work already underway to reduce aviation’s carbon dioxide emissions and to meet our industry goals, as demonstrated in ATAG’s Aviation Climate Solutions report released in September this year. We are already exceeding the short-term efficiency goal, whilst putting in place the technology and alternative fuels strategy to achieve our long-term goal to halve industry CO2 emissions by 2050.

“The mid-term goal, for carbon-neutral growth from 2020, requires the global MBM to be developed at ICAO and the whole industry is firmly pushing for that outcome – as evidenced by the industry’s recent open letter to governments.”


  • The Air Transport Action Group represents the entire aviation sector: airlines, airports, air traffic management organisations and the makers of aircraft and engines. It coordinates common industry positions on the sustainable future of air transport and developed the industry-wide climate goals outlined in the open letter below.
  • The Open Letter is available at
  • Aviation Climate Solutions can be downloaded at

Background FAQs:

Why didn’t international transport emissions appear in the text?

  • Whilst we were surprised by the lack of reference to international transport emissions in the final agreement, it is understandable that in the course of multilateral negotiations, some items have higher priority than others. 
  • It seems that the French Presidency gave logical precedence to those matters which required time to negotiate, but were vital to the overall agreement.
  • As international aviation is already being addressed at ICAO under the Chicago Convention, it was deemed by a number of negotiators to be not necessary to address these sectors in this particular agreement.
  • In the scheme of the Paris Agreement, aviation and shipping remain a less central pillar, but of course to us aviation is the main subject – in that sense it is useful to have a separate UN agency, ICAO, devoted to exploring the complexities of dealing with the matter.

Where does this leave the ICAO discussions?

  • The ICAO discussions will continue – it was always a parallel track to the UNFCCC discussions. However, now that there is some clarity from the Paris Agreement on issues such as differentiation, it is our hope that this will facilitate the ICAO talks and deliver the needed agreement next September.
  • The ICAO Assembly in September 2016 will be proceeded by a range of relevant meetings, including regional outreach dialogues and a high-level conference.
  • The aviation industry will be undertaking a comprehensive programme of engagement in the lead-up to the ICAO Assembly, supporting governments to come to an agreement.
  • The aviation sector has stated that its preferred option for an MBM is a mandatory global offsetting scheme, to be agreed at the 2016 ICAO Assembly and then ready for implementation from 2020. It should offset all growth in international aviation emissions from 2020, effectively capping aviation emissions at 2020 levels, whilst the carbon offsets used will help fund climate mitigation action, predominantly in developing nations.

Who was pushing for international transport emissions to be included? Who was against it?

  • Whilst we do not know what was taking place in the closed negotiating sessions, we understand the European Union made a concerted push to include emissions from international transport in the agreement. 
  • In public statements under one of the subsidiary bodies of the talks, the ‘G77’ group of all developing nations made a strong statement about allowing ICAO and IMO to continue their work, and that the issue should not be discussed at the UNFCCC. 
  • We suspect that the differing views on this issue meant a compromise was too difficult to reach in the short time available for discussions, and so the matter was dropped.
  • We believe there was an understanding that the ICAO process was anyway well underway irrespective of any Paris discussions and that Parties felt comfortable with that progress.

What did the aviation industry want from the Paris Agreement?

  • We needed COP21 to deliver an ambitious climate agreement in order to facilitate increased momentum to the ICAO discussions – we believe this has been achieved.
  • Any mention of aviation should simply have provided guidance to the ICAO process, without being prescriptive in such a way that would complicate the ICAO talks.
  • The end result – no text on aviation and shipping – was not what we expected, but importantly it also does not force concepts into ICAO that would be inappropriate for the international aviation sector, which needs a single global mechanism.

Why does international transport not have to do an INDC – doesn’t it mean that these emissions have no target and are free to continue to emit?

  • INDC stands for intended nationally-determined contributions – ‘nationally’ being the key word. Aviation and shipping do not fit neatly into this construct and so have their own processes.
  • But that doesn’t mean emissions from these sectors are not being tackled through international processes.
  • Whilst we can’t speak for the maritime sector, which has its own modalities, we are confident that the process underway at ICAO will help aviation contribute its climate responsibility. 
  • The industry has set short-, medium- and long-term goals and is fully prepared to play its part. 
  • Next year, ICAO will deliver a CO2 efficiency standard for new aircraft and a global market-based measure to offset post-2020 growth.
  • The industry is also continuing to invest billions of dollars in new aircraft, deliver thousands of operational efficiency measures, explore the deployment of alternative energy sources and work in collaboration to improve infrastructure.
  • Our industry’s climate action framework helps to deliver climate impact mitigation whilst also allowing growth of the sector – particularly important to developing and emerging economies to help build their connectivity, trade and tourism.