Powerful, but not climate friendly.

Shutterstock / Maxene HuiyuPowerful, but not climate friendly.

Major airlines have come up with yet another way of imposing delays upon the world.

Under international pressure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, most members of the International Air Transport Association have agreed on a proposal for reducing their greenhouse gas emissions — but the plan lacks details, aims low, and would sit on the tarmac until 2020 or later.

Aviation is an awfully energy-intensive way of getting around; the industry accounts for an estimated 2 percent of global carbon emissions.

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The European Union has wanted to require airlines that operate in its territory to join the E.U. emissions-trading system, but after the U.S. and other countries threw a tantrum, the E.U. agreed in December to hold off for one year. So airlines and other opponents of the E.U.’s plan are rushing to put together an alternative.

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On Monday, most members of the airline association agreed on a system. From The Guardian:

[The airlines] said there should be a single global “market-based mechanism” — such as emissions trading — that would enable airlines to account for and offset their emissions.

But they did not agree to a global limit on greenhouse gas emissions from air travel, or set out in detail how governments should implement a market-based mechanism to cover all airlines. …

[G]reen campaigners pointed out that Monday’s IATA resolution could allow airlines simply to buy cheap carbon credits to offset their emissions, rather than make real reductions.

Carbon credits are currently at rock bottom prices because of a glut on the market, and because companies covered by the EU’s emissions trading system were awarded far more free permits than they needed.

Bill Hemmings, aviation manager at the green campaigning organisation Transport & Environment, said: “The IATA resolution represents a welcome departure from their historical position that better air traffic control, better planes and biofuels alone can solve the problem.

“However, it kicks the ball in the long grass, until after 2020, and sets out a string of unworkable conditions. It rules out the EU emissions trading scheme as a stepping stone, [and rules out] the raising of revenues and impacts on traffic volume, which are inherent to any market-based measure.”

Airlines hope their proposal will lay the groundwork for an international agreement on aviation emissions. From Reuters:

The decision is designed to offer governments a basis for negotiation after United Nations talks failed to resolve a stand-off between the European Union and a broad flank of other countries over an issue with cross-border implications.

Airlines have been racing to avert a trade war after the European Union suspended an emissions trading scheme for a year to give opponents time to agree on a global system.

So far, little progress has been made in the UN effort to craft an agreement to lower emissions from international air travel, raising doubts that a September target date can be met.