The international regulatory body for commercial aviation on Thursday approved a sweeping market-based system to limit greenhouse gas emissions from airliners.
An assembly of the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) 191 member states approved the agreement after six years of negotiations and public disagreements among major nations.
The system, dubbed Carbon Offset and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), is intended to cap the aviation sector's emissions at the levels they will reach in 2020 and stop any increases after that point.
Civil aviation accounts for only about 2 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. But it is the most rapidly growing source of emissions, and the industry expects to double passenger numbers in the next two decades.
Under the system approved Thursday, airlines will be asked in the coming years to offset some of their carbon emissions through mechanisms like buying forestry credits.
"It is another significant step in the global movement to take ambitious action to address climate change exemplified by yesterday’s action to cross the threshold for the Paris agreement to enter into force," Secretary of State John KerryJohn KerryPressure grows for breakthrough in Biden agenda talks Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by ExxonMobil — Climate divides conservative Democrats in reconciliation push Equilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by Altria — Walrus detectives: Scientists recruit public to spot mammal from space MORE said in a statement.
"This measure addresses a growing source of global emissions; demonstrates the international community’s strong and growing support for climate action in all areas; and helps avoid a patchwork of potentially costly and overlapping regional and national measures," he said.
Michael Huerta, head of the Federal Aviation Administration, told reporters that the vote is a "very, very proud moment for ICAO, which has a long track record of taking action to reduce emissions."
“It’s a historic moment,” Spanish representative Victor Aguado told the assembly at the Montreal, Canada, meeting to approve the deal, according to Reuters.
The vote came a day after the historic Paris climate change agreement reached its final threshold, putting it on course to take effect Nov. 4.
The ICAO expects that the carbon system will add a maximum of 2 percent to passengers’ ticket prices.
The United Nations sees limiting aircraft pollution as a step toward keeping global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, above pre-industrial levels, a goal set out in the Paris agreement.
Sixty-four countries, including the United States, Canada and Mexico, have agreed to start implementing the aviation system’s requirements in 2021, before it becomes mandatory in 2026. Those early countries account for about 85 percent of aviation emissions.
The airline industry welcomed the agreement.
"Today’s historic agreement affirms that aviation continues to lead the way toward a greener future,” said Nicholas Calio, president of Airlines for America.
"Having a single, globally agreed market-based measure for international aviation ensures its role as a complement to our considerable technology, sustainable alternative aviation fuels, operations and infrastructure initiatives, sending a clear message that airlines will remain a green engine of economic growth into the future," said Nancy Young, the group's vice president for environment.
Some environmental groups cheered the Thursday vote.
“Today’s agreement is another major step in global efforts to combat climate change, and a clear sign that the momentum we saw in Paris continues to build,” said Bob Perciasepe, president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. “The agreement provides a practical framework for harnessing market forces to limit the rapid growth in airline emissions.”
Other thought it didn’t go far enough.
“The world needs more than voluntary agreements. Without robust environmental safeguards the offsets won’t cut emissions, leaving us with a deal that amounts to little more than adding the price of a cup of coffee to a ticket,” said Bill Hemmings, director of aviation for the Europe-based group Transport and Environment.
The ICAO approved a separate set of standards to reduce aircraft greenhouse gas emissions earlier this year, focusing on construction of newly built planes.
- Updated at 2:35 p.m.