UN panel approves new airplane emissions rules

UN panel approves new airplane emissions rules
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The United Nations took a big step toward the first international carbon dioxide emissions rules for airplanes Monday.

The Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection, an expert panel of the U.N.’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) cleared the new standards at a meeting in Montreal, sending it to the organization’s full governing council for approval.

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The rules would apply new design and technology standards for newly built commercial aircraft starting in 2020, and for aircraft designs currently in production by 2023, ICAO said in a statement. By 2028, planes that don’t meet the new standards would have to be retired.

Aircraft account for less than 2 percent of the carbon emissions globally, and around 3 percent in the United States.

A senior Obama administration official said the agreement “demonstrates that the international community continues to take action on climate change through collaboration on standards to reduce carbon pollution.”

He added that the White House thinks “it’s a big deal, a big step forward” for President Obama’s climate agenda, and aligns with what the Obama administration was pushing for in negotiations.

The White House estimates that the standards would eliminate 650 million tons of carbon between 2020 and 2040, the equivalent of 140 million cars’ annual emissions.

Domestically, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would be responsible for implementing the standards, along with the Federal Aviation Administration.

The EPA was under pressure from environmentalists to adopt stricter rules than those from the U.N. But the Obama administration, airlines and manufacturers preferred to stay within the U.N. framework, since airlines operate internationally and would prefer a level playing field.

“Every step taken in support of ICAO’s full basket of measures for environmental improvement is an important one, and I am sure the [governing] council will be deeply appreciative of the this latest CAEP achievement,” Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu, president of the ICAO governing council, said in a statement.

The largest aircraft will be subject to the most stringent standards under the new rules, with about a 33 percent cut as a target, ICAO said, but they will apply to the full range of commercial planes.

“The goal of this process is ultimately to ensure that when the next generation of aircraft types enter service, there will be guaranteed reductions in international CO2 emissions,” Aliu said.

The EPA proposed last June to formally declare carbon from airplanes to be a danger to the public health and welfare. It is the first step toward domestically adopting the UN standards so they apply within the United States.

Greens were disappointed Monday with the standards from the U.N.

“These standards set the bar embarrassingly low, ensuring that almost all aircraft will already meet the requirements well before they go into effect in 2023,” Sarah Burt, an attorney at Earthjustice, said in a statement. “The aviation industry is sandbagging, which seriously hinders our efforts to meet the commitments we made in Paris.”

Vera Pardee, a Center for Biological Diversity attorney, said the U.N. rules are “disturbingly weak,” and should add pressure to the Obama administration to go farther than the U.N.

The Monday decision from the U.N. put to rest a rift between the United States and the European Union, in which Europe was pushing for looser efficiency rules than the United States, according to Reuters.

If Monday’s agreement is adopted, the U.N. agency would agree to a formal 2019 review of airplane technology that could result in stricter rules down the road.

Later this year, the same expert panel that approved Monday’s rules is set to decide on a market-based international mechanism aimed at keeping the aircraft industry carbon-neutral from 2020 onward.

—Updated at 7:03 p.m.