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Aviation’s Toulouse Declaration: More illusion than substance?

March 5, 2022
Harold Goodwin
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The French Presidency of the EU convened an Aviation Summit at the beginning of February that adopted the Toulouse Declaration, which recognises the need for public-private partnerships in achieving sustainable and decarbonised aviation. The Summit brought together the 27 EU member states and 10 other member states of the European Civil Aviation Conference, along with a wide range of private sector participants from the aviation and energy sectors. The governments of Canada, Japan, Morocco and the United States also took part.

The Toulouse Declaration was signed by more than 35 European countries and 146 industry stakeholder groups. Signatories have pledged to support a basket of measures to accelerate the transition of both European aviation and the global international aviation sector to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. The Declaration calls for partners worldwide to work together for the adoption at ICAO’s triennial Assembly in September/October this year of such a long-term aspirational goal for international aviation.

The Toulouse Declaration reaffirms the commitments made in the declaration of the “International Aviation Climate Ambition Coalition (IACAC)” at COP26 last November. That declaration was taken in a global context but it was also driven by European states - although twelve other states signed up, including the four which participated in the Toulouse Summit. There are, however, significant differences in the texts of the two declarations. The IACAC makes no mention of intermediate targets prior to 2050; the Toulouse Declaration expresses support for "effective and ambitious interim milestones" although it does not specify any (nor does it spell out specific provisions of the “basket of measures”). The IACAC seeks to ensure the maximum effectiveness of ICAO’s CORSIA carbon offsetting scheme “as an important measure to address aviation emissions”; the Toulouse Declaration does not mention CORSIA although it refers to market-based measures and carbon pricing.

The Toulouse Declaration calls for “a regular and constructive dialogue, in Europe and worldwide, on the decarbonisation of aviation between authorities, industry and civil society”. But while industry was widely represented, no aviation NGO participated in the Summit or signed the Declaration, nor did any tourism entity - despite the sector’s heavily dependent and symbiotic relationship with air transport.

The absence of specification of any intermediate targets towards net zero 2050 (notably the UNFCCC’s recognized need to cut CO2 emissions by half from 2019 levels by 2030) makes both declarations more wishful thinking than credible in themselves, and for Europe the Fit for 55 and RefuelEU Aviation initiatives already go much further. Signing on to such “least common denominator” declarations may be a sine qua non for displaying green credentials but lacks any real committal. The Toulouse Declaration has achieved widespread promotion, with many of the signatories including the text in their own media releases; but the addition of yet another non-binding “declaration” is hardly the claimed “breakthrough”, even if the range of private and public backers should be considered a step forward.

Both the IACAC and the Toulouse declarations rely heavily on expectations of ICAO’s continuing address of emissions from international aviation. But European leadership on aviation environmental issues tends to be reined in at the global level by ICAO. And major players such as Brazil, China, India, Russia and South Africa are by no means committed. As elaborated in a Commentary on the aviation emissions mitigation challenges being faced this year which was recently posted on GreenAir News, there is a critical need to recognize the constraints on ICAO by Chicago Convention principles of equal application. Thus, ICAO members should not restrain but rather encourage states with greater ambition than ICAO’s own “least common denominator” scheme (on the understanding that measures should be complementary rather than undermining or conflicting with the ICAO framework).

Chris Lyle, International Aviation Policy Consultant, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
February 2022


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