The 39th International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Assembly under way in Montreal ends tomorrow. Taiwan was invited to attend the last ICAO Assembly in 2013, but its participation did not continue this year, likely due to opposition from Beijing.
The government has conveyed the diplomatic efforts it made to attend the assembly and highlighted the importance of Taiwan’s inclusion for global aviation safety, yet, commentaries have not moved further to capture the global narratives during the assembly and reflect on Taiwan’s possible policy responses.
The first and most salient feature of recent assembly meetings is that concerns over the environmental impact of global aviation have gradually risen. Although the objectives of ICAO under Article 44 of the Chicago Convention do not have any direct reference to the environment, the Kyoto Protocol did task ICAO to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the aviation industry.
Ever since then, ICAO has been in the process of adopting a carbon emissions standard for the aviation industry. One of the critical outcomes of this year’s assembly is to finalize a global market-based measure (MBM) scheme for the sector’s carbon-neutral growth from the 2020 target. The results can be seen as a key test of global willingness to truly implement the climate commitment after last year’s Paris Agreement.
Second, there is a common perception that the aviation industry has become influential in ICAO’s rulemaking process. Historically, the connection between ICAO and some industry trade associations, such as the International Air Transport Association (IATA), is strong, and one of IATA’s own objectives is to cooperate with ICAO.
The assembly took into account the proposal of the aviation industry to draft the new global MBM scheme. ICAO’s Legal Committee even considered a recommendation to release the procedural restriction on the participation of industry observers. Critics have said that ICAO echoes the industry’s interests far too obviously.
Third, given that climate change is a complicated realm characterized by various conflicting interests, participation without civil society could result in a serious regulatory bias. Environmental non-governmental organizations could counterbalance the influence of economic interest groups and the predominant transport-oriented culture in global aviation affairs.
The International Coalition on Sustainable Aviation, an environmental non-governmental organization umbrella group, is the official civil society observer to ICAO. The coalition is currently running a global campaign, FlightPath 1.5, dedicated to cutting aviation pollution and ensuring that the proposed MBM deal is not just a low bar for an international climate agreement.
To benefit from the future aviation carbon offsetting scheme, a solid starting point for Taiwan is to voluntarily draft its own state action plan and adjust the related domestic institutional setting accordingly, such as Taiwan’s national greenhouse gas cap-and-trade scheme established by the Greenhouse Gas Reduction and Management Act (溫室氣體減量及管理法) last year. The state action plan, suggested in the 37th Assembly, essentially seeks to induce ICAO’s member states to monitor their aviation emissions and outline measures to address their carbon footprint.
For future industrial participation and other “bottom-up” approaches, Taiwan might enhance coordination with major airlines within IATA and harness the resources for capacity building and future collaboration with the targeted non-governmental organizations.
Yang Chung-han is a doctoral researcher at the Centre for Environment, Energy and Natural Resource Governance at the University of Cambridge.
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