A Guide to the Paris Agreement for the Aviation Sector

Our guide provides an overview of the Paris Agreement, which is a guiding framework for the aviation industry, offering a roadmap toward a sustainable and environmentally responsible future.

Our Paris Agreement guide covers:

As international air traffic operates beyond the confines of national boundaries, addressing its greenhouse gas emissions necessitates a coordinated, global effort.

This article explores the key Paris Agreement articles that relate to the aviation sector and explores the aviation sectors response to the Paris agreement such as the initiatives undertaken by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), and the significance of carbon offset schemes like CORSIA and the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).

What is the Paris Agreement?

The Paris Agreement is a global effort to combat climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Who does the Paris Agreement apply to?

The Paris Agreement applies to all countries that are parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

As of October 2023, 197 parties have signed the Paris Agreement, and 192 parties have ratified it.

What are the main objectives of the Paris Agreement?

The Paris Agreement outlines several main objectives with the overarching goal of addressing climate change and its impacts. It’s key objectives include:

  •  Substantially reducing global greenhouse gas emissions: The agreement aims to limit the global temperature increase in this century to 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, while pursuing the means to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees. This objective requires countries to make commitments to cut their climate pollution and to strengthen those commitments over time.
  • Strengthening national adaptation efforts: The Paris Agreement recognises that adaptation to the impacts of climate change is a global challenge and aims to significantly strengthen national adaptation efforts, including through support and international cooperation
  • Creating a framework for transparent monitoring, reporting, and ratcheting up of countries’ individual and collective climate goals: The Paris Agreement establishes a framework for the transparent monitoring, reporting, and ratcheting up of countries’ individual and collective climate goals.
  • Assisting developing nations in their climate mitigation and adaptation efforts: The agreement provides a pathway for developed nations to assist developing nations in their climate mitigation and adaptation efforts, although developed nations are not legally bound to contribute a specific amount to these efforts.

How does the Paris Agreement work?

The Paris Agreement is an international treaty on climate change that was adopted in 2015. The agreement comprises 16 introductory paragraphs and 29 articles, covering both procedural and operational aspects.

The Paris Agreement stands on three pillars, which are:

  • Legal nature: The Paris Agreement must create obligations for parties to implement their greenhouse gas reduction targets and achieve individual and collective goals. The legal form of the Paris Agreement and intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) remain unclear. A multilateral agreement adopted under the Vienna Convention of Law of Treaties has the highest legal rigor under international law. Hence, a vast majority of countries are calling for the Paris Agreement to be a protocol.
  • Effectiveness of the agreement: The Paris Agreement must create obligations for parties to implement their greenhouse gas reduction targets and achieve individual and collective goals. The Paris Agreement cannot be a success unless every country commits to take part. A global goal of climate neutrality and resilience at least by the mid-century is necessary.
  • Participation by all countries: The Paris Agreement must create obligations for parties to implement their greenhouse gas reduction targets and achieve individual and collective goals. Trust and mutual confidence in the Paris Agreement will come from participation by all countries. The agreement must be applicable to all parties.

These pillars are important because they provide a durable framework guiding the global effort for decades to come and mark the beginning of a shift towards a net-zero emissions world.

The Paris Agreement mandates countries to set emissions reduction pledges, known as NDCs, with the aim of preventing global temperatures from rising more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels and striving to keep it below 1.5°C.

The Paris Agreement establishes mechanisms to ensure compliance, including a global stocktake and a transparency framework. These mechanisms evaluate and enhance the effectiveness of parties’ climate actions.

Every five years, countries conduct a global stocktake to assess their progress in implementing the agreement. The first global stocktake in September 2023 sounded an alarm, warning that “the world is not on track to meet the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement.” This process acts as a critical reality check, prompting increased efforts aligned with the agreement’s objectives.

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Paris Agreement and the Aviation sector

The Paris Agreement does not directly include aviation emissions, but some articles are relevant to the aviation sector. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has established a global market-based measure (MBM) scheme for international aviation known as the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), which aligns with the temperature goals of the Paris Agreement. Additionally, the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), another carbon offsetting scheme, contributes to GHG emissions mitigation, particularly benefiting developing countries.

Key Paris Agreement articles related to aviation:

Here are some key points from the Paris Agreement articles related to aviation.

  • Article 2: aims to strengthen the ability of countries to deal with the impacts of climate change. It calls for countries to take action to limit global warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
  • Article 3: calls for countries to undertake and communicate ambitious efforts to reduce GHG emissions, taking into account their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the context of sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty.
  • Article 6: provides principles for how countries can “pursue voluntary cooperation” to reach their climate targets. The Article 6 text clarifies how international carbon markets involving governments should function. The new market mechanism under the Paris Agreement is designed to contribute to the mitigation of GHG.
  • Article 6.2: allows countries to trade emission reductions and removals with one another through bilateral or multilateral agreements. It creates the basis for trading in GHG emission reductions (or “mitigation outcomes”) across countries. It introduces cooperation through finance, technology transfer, and capacity building, where no trading of emission reductions is involved.
  • Article 6.4: creates a new market mechanism to contribute to the mitigation of GHG emissions and support sustainable development. The mechanism will promote the use of higher quality, verified emission reductions and provide a streamlined process for the transfer of mitigation outcomes between countries. The mechanism will operate under the authority and guidance of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Paris Agreement and will be supervised by a body designated by the COP.
  • Article 6.8: addresses non-market international cooperation among governments. It establishes a framework for non-market approaches to contribute to the mitigation of GHG emissions and support sustainable development.
  • Article 9: calls for countries to enhance their efforts to develop and transfer technology, capacity building, and financial resources to developing countries to support their efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

ICAO Net Zero by 2050

The ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) is responsible for regulating international aviation, and the Paris Agreement has implications for the aviation sector.

For the case of aviation, there is a long-standing understanding that the effort to address greenhouse gas emissions from international air traffic, which does not fall under any national jurisdiction, is under the authority of the ICAO.

In October 2022, the ICAO Assembly reached a historic agreement on a global aspirational goal for international aviation of “net-zero carbon emissions by 2050” in support of the Paris Agreement’s temperature goal.

CORSIA is a global market-based measure (MBM) scheme for international aviation that was developed by ICAO. CORSIA is designed to be consistent with the Paris Agreement’s temperature goal and is designed to contribute to the achievement of the Paris Agreement’s long-term goals.

CORSIA aims to address any increase in total CO2 emissions from international civil aviation above 2020 levels. Under CORSIA, aeroplane operators will be required to purchase and cancel “emissions units” to offset the increase in CO2 emissions covered by the scheme. CORSIA is the first global market-based measure that addresses CO2 emissions from any industry sector.

Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and Aviation

The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) is a United Nations-run carbon offset scheme that allows countries to fund greenhouse gas emissions-reducing projects in other countries and claim the saved emissions reductions towards their own targets.

The CDM issues Certified Emission Reductions (CERs) credits, which represent a reduction, avoidance, or sequestration of one metric ton of CO2 that would otherwise be emitted into the atmosphere.

The ICAO has been working with the UNFCCC on the development of CDM methodologies for aviation.
There are two aviation-related methodologies are recognized within the CDM programme:

  • AM0116 – “Electric taxing systems for airplanes”
  • AMS-I.M – “Solar power for domestic aircraft at-gate operations.”

These methodologies are available for use on projects related to domestic aviation.

Why is the Paris Agreement important for the aviation sector?

The Paris Agreement is important for the aviation sector due to the following reasons:

  • Decarbonisation roadmap: To achieve its climate goals, the aviation sector needs to develop a roadmap for decarbonisation that is compatible with the Paris Agreement. This roadmap should include deploying near-term technology solutions, such as efficiency and operational measures, as well as alternative fuels with lower lifecycle emissions than fossil jet fuel.
  • Immediate action required: The aviation sector is a top-ten global emitter and accounts for 4.9% of the warming impact on the Earth. Its emissions continue to grow at a fast rate, posing a threat to the Paris Agreement targets. Therefore, immediate action is needed to reduce emissions and ensure the sector’s contribution to global climate goals.
  • Global standards and political acceptability: The aviation industry needs to ensure political acceptability across all countries in setting its climate goals. It also requires global standards that can be instituted everywhere to avoid disadvantaging some countries, which would result in no uptake and little environmental integrity.

Paris Agreement timeline

Here are some key dates related to the Paris Agreement:

  • December 12, 2015: The Paris Agreement was adopted as an international treaty on climate change by 196 parties at the United Nations Climate Change Conference near Paris, France.
  • April 22, 2016 – April 21, 2017: The Paris Agreement was open for signature by states and regional economic integration organizations that are parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at the UN Headquarters in New York. The agreement remained open for signature for one year.
  • November 4, 2016: The Paris Agreement entered into force, thirty days after the date on which at least 55 Parties to the Convention accounting in total for at least an estimated 55% of the total global greenhouse gas emissions had deposited their instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval, or accession with the Depositary, the Secretary-General of the United Nations.
  • October 2022: ICAO agrees Net Zero 2050 ambitions to align with the Paris agreement.
  • September 2023: The first global stocktake was held to assess progress in implementing the agreement.
  • Every five years: Each country is expected to submit a new or updated nationally determined contribution (NDC) that reflects its highest possible ambition.

Conclusion:

In summary, the Paris Agreement has a substantial impact on the aviation sector, through initiatives like CORSIA and CDM which are important for reducing emissions and fostering environmental sustainability. To align with the Paris Agreement’s goal, the aviation industry must stay committed to its Net Zero by 2050 ambitions, embracing decarbonization, adhering to global standards, and fostering political consensus.

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