UN agency sets out landmark emissions rules for planes
A United Nations panel has proposed long-sought landmark greenhouse gas emissions standards for airliners and cargo planes.
The plans drew praise from the White House but criticism from environmentalists, who said they would be too weak to actually slow global warming.
The International Civil Aviation Organisation says the agreement reached by the agency's environmental panel requires new aircraft designs to meet the standards beginning in 2020 and designs already in production comply by 2023.
There is also a cut-off date of 2028 for the manufacture of planes that do not comply with the standards.
The move must still be adopted by the agency's 36-nation governing council, but substantive changes are not expected.
The standards would be the first to impose binding energy efficiency and carbon dioxide reduction targets for the aviation sector. When fully implemented, they are expected to reduce carbon emissions by more than 650 million tons between 2020 and 2040, equivalent to removing more than 140 million cars from the road for a year, according to the White House.
The standards would require an average 4% reduction in fuel consumption during the cruise phase of flight starting in 2028 when compared with planes delivered in 2015. However, planes burn the most fuel during take-offs and landings, while cruising at high altitudes is already the most fuel-efficient period.
The agreement is the first of two important opportunities this year to reduce carbon emissions from aviation. The second opportunity will come later this year when ICAO tries to reach an agreement on a "market-based approach" that would use economic incentives to further reduce aviation carbon emissions.
"Today's agreement is an important signal that the international community is well-positioned to rise to the challenge of implementing a global market-based approach to reduce aviation emissions," the White House said.
But Dan Rutherford, aviation direction of the International Council on Clean Transportation, said th e standards did not set the bar high enough because they required reductions of only about a third of what was expected to be technically possible with the more fuel-efficient planes in production when the new rules take effect.
The newest Boeing and Airbus designs already meet the proposed efficiency standards, due to demands for fuel savings from the airlines, environmentalists said. In the meantime, the manufacturers can continue selling older, less efficient designs for years to come.
Airliners in use now are exempt from the new standards altogether, meaning even dirtier planes can continue to fly.
Boeing called the agreement "real progress" beyond industry steps already taken to reduce aviation emissions.
ICAO council president Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu said the agency's goal "is ultimately to ensure that when the next generation of aircraft types enters service, there will be guaranteed reductions in international carbon emissions".
Environmentalists also complained that ICAO had been working on international standards for 18 years and was now proposing to give aircraft manufacturers another dozen years to comply.
"These dangerously weak recommendations put the Obama administration under enormous pressure" to take greater action, said Vera Pardee, a Centre for Biological Diversity lawyer who has sued the US government over aviation emissions.
Last June, the Obama administration proposed regulating aircraft emissions, saying they were a threat to human health because they contained pollutants that helped cause global warming.
But a final US decision on adoption of international standards is likely to be left to the next presidential administration. EPA officials said at the time that the earliest the agency was likely to propose adoption of ICAO standards would be in 2017.
Boeing is the United States' largest exporter as measured in dollar value. The company vies with Airbus for the title of world's largest aircraft maker.
Aviation accounts for about 5% of global greenhouse emissions, according to environmentalists. ICAO says it is actually less than 2%.
But that share is expected to grow as aviation grows. "We also recognise that the projected doubling of global passengers and flights by 2030 must be managed responsibly and sustainably," said Mr Aliu.
The action comes two months after UN climate negotiators in Paris left the aviation industry out of their landmark global agreement to combat global warming.
The proposed standard covers the full range of sizes and types of aircraft used in international aviation today, but reserves the strictest standards for planes weighing more than 60 tons, ICAO said.
The larger planes are responsible for about 90% of international aviation emissions.