October 7, 2013 — An agreement sealed by 191 nations at a meeting last week may have averted, for now, what threatened to become the world’s first climate trade war — a battle between the European Union and the U.S. and several other countries over how to address carbon emissions from air travel. Under the new agreement, the world’s governments pledge to develop a global program for reducing the aviation sector’s climate-altering emissions via market-based solutions such as emissions trading and offsets. The agreement was made in Montreal at a meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organization, a group organized under the United Nations and representing airports, airlines, air traffic controllers, aircraft manufacturers and other aviation industry interests from around the globe.
Currently representing only about 5 percent or less of the global warming potential of human-caused emissions, aviation might seem like a tiny contributor to climate change. But if aviation were its own country, it would be the world’s seventh-largest carbon dioxide emitter, and without interventions, global aircraft emissions are on track to quadruple by 2050, says Annie Petsonk, international counsel and aviation expert at the Environmental Defense Fund.