Taking Flight - Federal Action to Mitigate Canada’s GHG Emissions from Aviation

Taking Flight - Federal Action to Mitigate Canada’s GHG Emissions from Aviation

Nathalie J. Chalifour & Laurel Besco

(2018) 48:2 Ottawa Law Review, 577-625

Abstract:

The 2015 Paris Agreement represents a significant step forward in international cooperation to mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Aviation emissions represent approximately 2 percent of global GHG emissions, a percentage that is predicted to grow rapidly over the next few decades. In spite of their importance, aviation emissions have been essentially left out of the UNFCCC processes, including the recent Paris Agreement. Responsibility for negotiating a plan to mitigate global aviation emissions has been left to the UN International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). After years of challenging negotiations, ICAO members recently agreed to establish a global offsetting mechanism. While this is an important step, the program will not begin its voluntary pilot phase until 2021 and its first mandatory phase in 2024. Further, the program only covers international emissions. Given the projected growth in this industry, some jurisdictions are taking steps domestically to mitigate aviation emissions. For instance, the countries of the European Union (EU) included aviation in the EU Emissions Trading Program in 2012, although they offered international flights a hiatus while awaiting the outcome of ICAO negotiations on a market-based mechanism. In the wake of ICAO’s decision to implement an offsetting program, states now need to determine whether and how they will regulate emissions from aviation.

This paper examines Canada’s options for mitigating aviation emissions. Under Canada’s division of legislative powers, aviation falls squarely within federal jurisdiction. As such, most provincial climate change policies exclude domestic aviation. We examine the potential for federal action on GHG emissions from domestic aviation as a first step in the broader climate change action program, as well as the possibility of further action on international flights. Since the majority of aviation emissions are a consequence of burning fuel, we first survey the ways in which aviation fuels are currently regulated and then we consider the potential for carbon pricing and other regulations to be applied. We argue that addressing GHG aviation emissions would not only show leadership, but could also ultimately set Canada up to cooperate with the EU in the event it once again includes international flights in the EU ETS. Taking steps to implement a carbon price on international aviation in Canada could ensure that the considerable revenue that would be raised by such a carbon price stays in Canada.

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About the Author:

Nathalie Chalifour is co-director of the Centre for Environmental Law and Global Sustainability. She is also cross-appointed to the Institute of the Environment, where she directs the interdisciplinary graduate Environmental Sustainability Program. Her research is interdisciplinary, focusing on the intersections between the environment, the economy, and environmental and social justice. She has published numerous articles which address a variety of topics, including carbon taxes, social justice, ecological fiscal reform, sustainable forestry, brownfields redevelopment, and the effects of trade liberalization on nature conservation.

Click here to visit her Faculty web page.

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