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Nations Agree to Slow Growth of Airline Pollution 

  • Reuters

FILE -- A U.N. agency has approved an agreement to limit the growth of air pollution by civil airlines, like this Alaska Airlines flight, and cargo planes. The voluntary phase begins in 2021.

FILE -- A U.N. agency has approved an agreement to limit the growth of air pollution by civil airlines, like this Alaska Airlines flight, and cargo planes. The voluntary phase begins in 2021.

The world’s first aviation pollution agreement was approved Thursday by the United Nations agency that oversees the industry after six years of negotiations, despite objections from India and Russia.

The International Civil Aviation Organization’s global carbon offsetting system is expected to slow the growth of emissions from commercial flights, costing airlines less than 2 percent of revenues.

An assembly of ICAO’s 191 member states met and approved the deal, which will apply to international passenger and cargo flights as well as and business jets that generate more than 10,000 tons of emissions annually.

At an executive meeting earlier Thursday, Brazil and China, which had previously expressed reservations, voiced their support for the deal.

“It’s a historic moment,” Spanish representative Victor Aguado told the assembly.

The deal came a day after the announcement that the Paris accord to fight climate change would take effect November 4. Aviation was excluded from Paris, where countries agreed to limit the rise in global temperatures to well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.

Civil aviation produces about 2 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, and with the industry expecting passenger numbers to double to 7 billion by 2034, rising aircraft pollution must be curbed to achieve Paris’ temperature targets.

The deal includes a voluntary phase from 2021 to 2026 and becomes mandatory in 2027 for states with larger aviation industries. Airlines will have to buy carbon credits to offset growth in emissions.

At least 64 countries covering about 85 percent of international aviation activity have said they will participate in the voluntary phases, including North America and Europe.

The agreement is a compromise between developed nations, responsible for most greenhouse gas emissions in the past, and emerging and developing countries such as India and China that fear tight regulation could curb their economic growth.

ICAO has no direct power to craft or enforce regulations. Instead, it facilitates negotiations over standards that become mandatory when adopted by the agency’s member countries.

Airlines have lobbied for a global agreement using offsets in the hopes of avoiding a patchwork of national and regional deals that could be costly to comply with and difficult to adhere to.

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