US to attend India meeting to try to stop global warming action on aviation...will these countries now lead on efforts to get a global solution?

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The Indian Government has asked a handful of governments to come to New Delhi on Sept. 29-30th for a meeting to discuss the EU’s effort to control carbon pollution from aviation.  After 15 years of waiting for global action the EU took the reasonable step of moving forward at home.  Now it looks like the US, India, and other major polluters are going to plot on how to undermine this effort.  Instead of trying to stop the EU’s effort, will these countries actually agree to lead on efforts to immediately achieve a global solution to aviation’s pollution?  If they don’t it is a failure of leadership and a sign that they aren’t serious about addressing aviation’s global warming pollution.  

Will the “Delhi Declaration” to stop EU climate action strongly urge all countries, including the ones at the meeting, to immediately develop an enforceable global solution to aviation’s carbon pollution?  Press reports indicate that countries attending the Delhi meeting are developing a “declaration” and various versions of this declaration are already being circulated to invited countries.  The Obama Administration claims that it wants a global solution to aviation’s pollution (or so they’ve told us). 

Assuming it moves forward, the “Delhi Declaration to stop the EU” should agree on a strong commitment to develop a global solution immediately or it is a failure of US leadership.  It isn’t leadership to attempt to stop another country’s action on global warming and then not push for a change in position from the countries that have historically blocked a global solution.    After all, President Obama has promised that: “My presidency will mark a new chapter in America's leadership on climate change…”

Will the participating countries agree to new steps to reduce aviation’s carbon pollution or will it just restate the weak voluntary actions that have already been agreed?  At the last meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), countries agreed to a set of voluntary actions.  While many of these actions sound good on paper, there is no clearly enforceable path to implement them and no obligation for individual countries to take any action in accordance with these voluntary actions.  (Note that the language in the ICAO resolution includes the statement: “…without any attribution of specific obligations to individual States…ICAO and its member States…will work together to strive to achieve…”  In international negotiations that is very weak language.)

The “Delhi Declaration to stop the EU” should outline new actions that the participating countries will implement domestically and at the global level.  Without such new actions, the meeting declaration will only restate past vague actions that won’t guarantee significant reductions in aviation’s carbon pollution.  It will be like when my children say: “I don’t want that”.  And when I ask them what they want they have no answer.  Complaining and not proposing a positive vision of action isn’t leadership.  As President Obama stated: “Now is the time to confront this challenge once and for all.  Delay is no longer an option.  Denial is no longer an acceptable response.  The stakes are too high.  The consequences, too serious.”

Will the US and other participating countries take action at home to reduce their carbon pollution from aviation?  The US has been a strong proponent that international efforts to address global warming must be centered on countries taking action at home.  In theory, ICAO has agreed that countries are supposed to implement actions at home.  (Note that ICAO: Encourages States to submit their action plans outlining their respective policies and actions…”  The use of the word “encourages” is very weak language in international negotiations.)   After all, vague global promises without meaningful action at home won’t reduce the emissions of carbon pollution that cause global warming. 

The “Delhi Declaration to stop the EU” should commit countries to develop, implement, and report on their actions to reduce aviation’s carbon pollution.  If it fails to agree that participating countries will take any new action at home then it is a weak statement that only complains and doesn’t articulate a new positive set of actions that the US and other countries will implement.  As Special Envoy Todd Stern articulated: “As a threshold matter, we must first press forward in our own country…”

Participating countries should agree to a strong statement in Delhi that shows they want real action.  If the countries participating in the Delhi meeting really want to show leadership they should focus on articulating a vision of the actions that they will take to reduce aviation’s global warming pollution.  Such a statement – the Delhi Declaration on Securing Global Action on Aviation's Pollution – could look something like this:

We the undersigned declare that:

(1)    we will agree on a global solution to address aviation’s global pollution next year and will formalize that agreement at the next Assembly meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organization in 2013;

(2)    the global solution will include a cap on aviation’s global warming pollution in order to ensure that aviation emissions peak and decline immediately;  

(3)    we will implement new domestically enforceable actions at home to reduce aviation’s carbon pollution that will include caps on aviation’s pollution, market-based mechanisms, strong aircraft standards that lead to additional emissions reductions,  and other enforceable actions;

(4)     the combination of enforceable domestic and global actions will ensure that the aviation sector will significantly contribute to global efforts to avoid the worst impacts from climate change; and

(5)    we will meet early next year to ensure that each of the undersigned are sufficiently living up to these agreements.


Instead of using the meeting in Delhi to try to stop the EU’s effort to control aviation’s carbon pollution, the US and other participants should declare that they are going to lead the world’s effort to get a global solution.  And to show that they are serious, they’ll implement actions at home.  If the US and the others sign onto a statement that doesn’t articulate that commitment then it is a missed opportunity.  It will show that these countries are really only interested in stopping progress, not in taking real steps to address aviation’s contribution to global warming.

** Photo courtesy of: Sean MacEntee