Why is the Airline Industry Exempt from the Paris Climate Agreement?

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The airline industry’s emissions are as large as Germany’s and threaten the globe from meeting targets set at COP21, says Vera Paradee of the Climate Law Institute

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Story Transcript

SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.

The Paris Agreement was ratified last week with the threshold needed for the international deal to be enforced. What got less attention was the 191 members states and industry groups that had come together over the convention over international civil aviation which also delivered what was called an “A historic agreement” on limiting CO2 emissions. It came up with a new measure from global market based solutions to offset CO2 emissions from international flights and what the UN, International Civil Aviation organization said was a comprehensive roadmap for the sustainable future of international aviation. Well that sounds very good. But for many in the environmental protection movement, it is incomprehensible that aviation and shipping are not included in the Paris Agreement. Furthermore, the so called historic agreement is dictated by the very industry that the agreement proposes to oversee. These self-regulating systems have not fared well for us in the past in terms of the environment.

So let’s check into it more and for that we’re being joined by Vera Pardee. She is the senior council and supervising attorney at Climate Law Institute at the Center for Biological Diversity. Ms. Pardee is involved in many cases that employee Clean Air Act to reduce carbon emissions and she is the author of a new study, Up in the Air: How Airplane Carbon Pollution Jeopardizes Global Climate Goals. Vera thank you so much for joining us today.

VERA PARDEE: Thank you so much for having me.

PERIES: So Vera, for the first time we have an agreement in terms of the airline and shipping industry related to aviation. But you’re not happy with this. Why?

PARDEE: No I’m not happy with it. It actually pretends to be doing something about the ever increasing emissions from the airline industry but that is not the case. This agreement involves shifting the responsibility for reducing emissions away from the airline industry and onto third parties. Through the offset mechanism which is not at all yet defined even in this agreement.

PERIES: So what are some of the key issues we should understand about this deal that as you say is not dealing with the real emissions we have to contain and curtail?

PARDEE: Sure, so the airline industry was able to evade the obligations of the Pars Agreement which you just mentioned by saying oh we’re differ. We’re much more complicated, we need our own deal. This deal is what deal they basically came up with. The deal does not mention any obligation to reduce the airline emissions. It does not mention any obligation to keep the temperature increases to about 1.5 degrees Celsius or anywhere close to that. No such language is to be found in this agreement. That is amazing given that the rest of the planet has agreed to that very goal. So that’s the beginning of what is wrong with this deal. But much more can be said about it.

As I mentioned, it concerns offsets. It basically says the airline industry can continue to emit carbon dioxide. There is no cap on those emissions and we all know that they will be growing even to the extent of tripling by 2050. Instead of reducing those emissions to what we advocate which is very strong technical standards. They are using offsets which consists of a small amount of a surcharge on the ticket to collect money to then got third party projects which have not been defined and for which environmental criteria have not been set.

PERIES: Now we are talking about 2-3% of global emissions of CO2. Why is this a big deal? It sounds like it’s such a small part of it.

PARDEE: IT does sound like that but when you step back and look at it in comparison to other sources, it is by no means small. So when you rank countries and you look at how much CO2 any country emits, you find out that that’s about the amount that the entire country emits and it is ranked 7th as far as worldwide proportional emissions of CO2 is concerned. So the airline industry has managed to evade obligations to reduce emissions that are as large as Germany’s.

PERIES: Now why was it that it was left out of the Paris Agreement?

PARDEE: It’s I think; I need to speculate because I do not have this first had at all. But to me it appears it was industry pressure. We should realize that there are 2—basically this is a duopoly in the market for airline, for the construction of airplanes. Airbus and Boeing together own about 90% of that market. Air travel is subsidized by countries to a large extent. So when airbus and Boeing get together and say we really do not want to reduce our emissions, unfortunately countries listen. I think that is exactly what has happened here. The dominancy of the industry has allowed to them get out of their obligation.

PERIES: Alright let’s talk about some of the solutions. Now one of the things that we talked about actually offline was the airline currently charge us a surcharge for fuel. This was introduced when the cost of oil had just increased exponentially and the airlines had trouble making their ends meet as a result. But oil prices have actually come down and so where is this surcharge now going? I thought this would be a good way of applying these profits that have been made to. One of the things that you suggested in your report which is technically upgrades to some of the airlines, could make a big difference in terms of containing it. So that, talk about that and tell us also what the other solutions there are out there that could be employed to contain the emissions.

PADREE: Absolutely, glad to do that. You’re right, that money was allocated for a certain purpose, to protect the airlines form the shock in prices and of course we’re not anywhere in that universe but that surcharge hasn’t been removed. It’s just going into the airlines pockets. But the real solution to airline emissions is really two fold. The first one is as you say, technological. I want to point out that at the center, my employer here, we have spearheaded the effort to have the USEPA design tough emissions standards under the Clean Air Act which the EPA is now statutory obligated to do.

We have sued the EPA twice and have been successful in having the EPA execute that first step in that sequence. Now we are waiting for the EPA to propose those emissions standards. I want to point out that if you take technology and actually eliminate the formation of greenhouse gases at the source, then there is no reason to offset those emissions that have never been created in the first place. So this is darn elementary. The first thing to do is to use the technology that not available and get the emissions done. So that’s the first thing. If you want me to, I’ll go to the second point.

PERIES: Yes, please do.

PARDEE: Okay. We can’t fool ourselves into think that unfettered growth of aviation is ever going to be environmentally sustainable. We can do technological improvements. We can get emissions down, probably 25-40% or possibly even more, but we cannot eliminate them. Airline travel is the most carbon intensive form of travel that we have. What’s happened in the last decade or so is that airline prices have declined so people no longer hesitate to jump on planes any time they will. They no longer even consider alternative forms of transportation.

Now from a public policy perspective, it’s just impossible to say that airline traffic should continue to grow in an unfettered way. Instead what we should be doing is turning the attention of everyone here on the fact that many times other travel can take the place of airline travel and as we get more and more carbon out of vehicles and if we tackle the construction of trains we can electrify those forms of travel, take carbon out of them, and make it so that airline travel is reduced to a minimum. Certainly unfettered growth can never be the target.

PERIES: Vera alright. Thank you so much for joining us today. We look forward to a greater engagement with you and your organization moving forward. Especially coming up at COP22 in Marrakesh.

PARDEE: Thank you very much. It’s been a pleasure to be on your show.

PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.

End

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