As ATW went to press, ICAO was preparing for its 38th Assembly, where the most important issue will be whether a global market-based measures (MBM) scheme for aviation emissions can be achieved.

For some critics, the outcome will be judged a failure unless a complete and firm resolution is reached. But that would be the wrong conclusion based on a flawed definition of success.

Delegates going into the assembly know well that some very difficult negotiations remain both, during their meetings in Montreal and in the weeks and months to follow. But progress has been made in the year leading up to the assembly, and there is cautious optimism that an MBM compromise solution can be drafted. At the very least, steps will be laid that will form the pathway to a full agreement.

If that is the case, then it will be, as A4A VP-environmental affairs Nancy Young rightly said in her keynote address at the ATWEco-Aviation conference in September, “significant progress.”

“There has been stepwise progress leading to this moment. Not just from the work done over the last year, but work going back over the past several years,” Young said.

The European Commission deserves credit for encouraging this progress. It drew a firm line for aviation with its EU Emissions Trading Scheme, then suspended the non-EU part in the face of international criticism and to allow a window for negotiations to progress in a cooler climate absent trade war threats.

But should a full global MBM agreement not be reached at the assembly, it would be foolhardy and unproductive for the EC either to reverse the ETS suspension or expand the tax’s reach. That would only be a distraction and could put the very real progress that has been made toward a global aviation MBM scheme at risk. Already, countries such as China and India have threatened to enter into a trade war with the EU should the scheme be upheld or resurrected.

The EC is understood to have offered a bridge solution, provided that other countries commit to a firm schedule that will lead to a global scheme by 2020. That would remove one large area of contention: China, India and the US have criticized the EU for acting extraterritorially when implementing EU ETS on the part of an international flight that does not occur inside EU airspace. This bridge solution is where the EC should focus its efforts in the coming weeks and months.

The governments of China, India and the US, meanwhile, must do their part and actively engage in reaching solutions rather than saber rattling.

As Young stressed in her conference keynote, the concerted efforts of governments are needed as well as those of the airline industry. “We need rationalized government policy in support of our efforts.”

Rational thinking is required by all parties. Airlines are making huge strides in emissions reductions. Governments should help, not hinder those efforts.