Emerging economies aim flak at revived plans for CO2 caps on aviation

The world's biggest developing economies say they will shoot down proposed caps on aviation emissions, writes Juhi Chaudhary
<p>Representatives from Brazil, South Africa, India and China at last week&#8217;s meeting [Image by Press Information Bureau, Government of India]</p>

Representatives from Brazil, South Africa, India and China at last week’s meeting [Image by Press Information Bureau, Government of India]

Meeting for the first time since the Paris summit, Brazil, South Africa, India and China said they would sign the Paris agreement, but would oppose an aviation levy that is being discussed by the UN’s aviation arm. 

The BASIC group of countries (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) is worried about a European Union proposal to tax carbon emissions caused by flying. The EU was forced to postpone plans for a unilateral tax on all aircraft taking off and landing in its airspace after the US joined large developing countries to oppose the move.

The EU brought the aviation tax proposal back during the climate summit in Paris last December, but was persuaded to postpone the discussion in the interest of reaching a consensus Paris Agreement. It is now scheduled for discussion at the next meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organisation in September.

Meeting in New Delhi on April 6 and 7 — their first meeting since the Paris summit — ministers of BASIC countries fired the first salvo against the proposal.

Maesela Kekana, Chief Director, International Climate Change Relations and Negotiations of South Africa, said, “We are collectively concerned about the draft proposal that’s on the table. We are concerned about the nature of the proposal. It does not reflect the principle of the common but differentiated responsibilities.”

Common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities (CBDR&RC) is one of the pillars of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. It distinguishes between rich nations that have historically emitted most of the greenhouse gases (GHG) causing climate change and developing nations that are bearing the brunt of the effects.

Prakash Javadekar, India’s Minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change, said not only was the proposed aviation levy against CBDR&RC, it was “not in alignment with the Paris agreement”. He feared it would “pose an inappropriate economic burden on developing countries”.

See also: Can airlines cap their carbon emissions?

New York meeting

The meeting was also attended by Xie Zhenhua, Special Representative for Climate Change of China and Antonio Marcondes, Under Secretary-General for the Environment, Energy, Science and Technology, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Brazil.

All four told journalists afterwards that their countries would formally sign the Paris Agreement during the ceremony planned at UN headquarters in New York on Earth Day, April 22.

Summarizing the reasons for China’s support, Xie said, “The contents of the accord (Paris Agreement) fully reflect the principle of historical responsibility. It reiterates CBDR&RC and takes different national circumstances into account. There is a clear distinction between developed and developing countries.”

A UN spokesperson said over 130 countries have already confirmed they will sign the Paris Agreement that day, and the number is going up. Over 60 heads of state and government will attend the ceremony.

The agreement will enter into force 30 days after at least 55 countries, accounting for 55% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, deposit their instruments of ratification or acceptance with the UN Secretary-General.

Green Climate Fund

At the New Delhi meeting of the BASIC countries, representatives expressed their concern at the slow pace of work in the Green Climate Fund, the organisation supposed to provide finance to help mitigate GHG emissions and adapt to climate change impacts. These impacts are already affecting farm output worldwide, making droughts, floods and storms more frequent and more severe, and raising the sea level.

Javadekar said BASIC countries and other developing nations were already doing more to combat climate change than what is mandated under international agreements, while rich nations were still behind in fulfilling their financial support promises. All four ministers urged developed countries to scale up their level of financial support with a complete roadmap to deliver the promised US$100 billion per year by 2020.

The Paris Agreement goes into effect in 2020. BASIC nations also urged rich countries to scale up their pre-2020 actions. Their joint statement said: “Ministers reiterated the importance of pre-2020 actions in building trust amongst the Parties and noted with concern the pending ratification by many Annex I Parties of the Doha Amendment, which establishes the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol.” The Kyoto Protocol requires rich nations to reduce their GHG emissions, but many of them have effectively pulled out of it after 2012.

China backs India against WTO ruling

During the New Delhi meeting, China came out in support of India against a recent World Trade Organisation ruling. On a plea made by the US, the WTO had said India cannot insist that a certain portion of solar power manufacturing equipment be built within the country.

Read: WTO ruling sets back India’s solar plan

Javadekar said, “It is unfortunate that when India has launched a very big 175GW of renewable programme, and a very small portion of it is to be procured from domestic manufacturers, even this was challenged. We are preparing to file an appeal.”

Xie immediately said, “We support the position of India. Most countries are giving subsidies (to domestic manufacturers) for development of renewable energy.”