Countries approve first-ever limits on airline emissions

If the global airline industry were a country, it would be the world’s seventh-largest carbon emitter, with more emissions than Canada or South Korea.

On October 6, the U.N.’s aviation arm agreed to the first worldwide limits on emissions for a specific industry. Global airline emissions were not a part of the landmark Paris climate agreement, which is set to enter into force November 4.

What’s the deal?

191 nations of the International Civil Aviation Organization approved the new measures at a meeting in Montreal. The deal applies only to international flights, which account for about 60 percent of aviation. Emissions from domestic airline flights fall under the Paris accord.

  • Airlines that exceed their 2020 level of emissions will have to offset their emissions growth by making planes more efficient, or buying “offsets.” Offsets are credits from other projects that limit greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The U.S., China, members of the European Union and others have joined the “voluntary phase” from 2021 to 2027. All countries are required to offset emissions from 2028 through 2035. Some countries are still deciding whether to participate in the voluntary phase.
  • Experts estimate the agreement will eliminate 2.5 billion tons of carbon pollution, equivalent to taking 35 million cars off the road every year for the life of the agreement.

Secretary of State John Kerry called the aviation agreement “unprecedented” and said it builds on more than a decade of work by the U.S. and other nations to reduce aircraft emissions.