Some 65 countries reached a landmark agreement Thursday to cap greenhouse gas emissions from international aviation at 2020 levels through a market mechanism that will see airlines spend billions of dollars on GHG-reduction projects around the world.
The agreement came after nearly two weeks of talks at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the United Nations body that oversees the industry. Canadian carriers supported the effort to establish a global approach to carbon pollution.
"WestJet applauds the International Civil Aviation Organization and its members for today reaching this significant agreement on a global, sector-wide approach for emissions management for carbon-neutral growth in 2020," Mike McNaney, the company's vice-president for industry and corporate affairs, said in a release.
He noted that WestJet has achieved a 45-per-cent improvement in fuel efficiency for its fleet of aircraft .
The agreement takes effect in 2025 with a voluntary phase for the first six years, and is then mandatory.
Canada's Transport Minister Mark Garneau said the deal represents a significant achievement in the battle against climate change. "This is the first sectoral initiative toward the reduction of greenhouse gas since COP21 in Paris, and I am extremely proud of the leadership role that Canada played in the negotiation of this global deal," he said.
So far, 65 countries, including the United States and China, have indicated they will participate. However, Russia doesn't currently plan to participate in the voluntary phase, and India expressed reservations with portions of the pact.
The agreement has the backing of the airline industry even though it could cost airlines an estimated $5.3-billion (U.S.) annually in the early years and as much as $23.9-billion a year by 2035. Airlines spent $181-billion on fuel last year. For passengers in countries like Canada, the extra cost will range from 50 cents on shorter, cross-border flights to $7 on long-haul routes.
Environmentalists hailed the agreement, although they said more work is required to ensure the offset system is transparent and rigorous.
"Achieving carbon-neutral growth from 2020 is a significant step in its own right. And with robust implementation, the market-based measure can serve as a springboard to greater ambition, not only for the aviation sector, but – through market linkages worldwide – also for emitting sectors more broadly," said Nathaniel Keohane, vice-president with the U.S.-based Environmental Defense Fund.