Reading between the lines

The headlines were stolen by a letter to the US Congress from 10 heads of global food and drinks companies demanding governments promote a strong deal to combat climate change.

Less-remarked was an open letter signed by the “chief executives of all the world’s major aircraft and engine manufacturers and leaders of associations representing over 90pc of airline traffic; 1,861 airports and air traffic management organisations supporting 85pc of traffic”. Impressive.

Read between the lines of the open letter and the message is clear — we’ve made some progress on aviation emissions, but let’s keep up the momentum.

Aviation emissions do not fall within the remit of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) talks that will culminate in a global deal on climate in Paris in December, and — since the EU agreed to extend an exemption — aviation emissions from international flights do not fall within the remit of EU law either.

Instead, the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has said it will come up with a market-based mechanism to tackle global aviation emissions by September 2016.

But progress has been slow and a deal may not be ready by then.

There are two tracks to the negotiation process. ICAO’s environment advisory group is looking at the political issues that the mechanism must address, while a separate task force is considering technical rules.

Accounts differ on whether it is the first group or the second that has hindered progress so far, but given the legal complexities around such treaties and the international relations issues that surrounded the EU’s first attempt to regulate aviation emissions — trade wars were threatened — it seems more likely that it is the political track that is causing the delays.

Timing is important, because should ICAO fail to agree a deal by 2016, there is a chance then the EU exemption would end and Members of the European Parliament would again try to regulate international aviation emissions through EU law.

There is an inclination in some parts of the industry to wait and see the strength of the UNFCCC Paris deal before proceeding with talks.

But many in the sector are desperate to prevent this — after all, what industry doesn’t prefer to self-regulate? — and that could well be the motivating factor behind this week’s letter.

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