On Thursday, 190 national governments adopted a plan to offset emissions of greenhouse gases from jet travel. The measure was approved at a Montreal meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organization, or ICAO, after years of negotiations. The plan will require improvements in fuel economy from carriers, effectively incentivizing the purchase of more advanced aircraft.
Air travel currently accounts for about 2 percent of global emissions of greenhouse gases.
While it is possible these measures will raise the price of air travel for some consumers, experts have said these changes would only amount to small increases.
The accord would go into effect in 2021. It would be voluntary for the first 6 years, and nations who enter into the agreement voluntarily would be able to opt out with little notice. 65 nations, including the United States, China, and the EU, have indicated they would commit during the voluntary period.
Many smaller countries without large international carriers are exempt from the new rules.
Some countries involved in significant amounts of global air travel, including India and Russia, formally expressed reservations with the program, indicating they would decline to participate for the time being.
Calling the program “unprecedented,” US Secretary of State John Kerry praised the agreement, saying “This measure addresses a growing source of global emissions, demonstrates the international community’s strong and growing support for climate action in all areas and helps avoid a patchwork of potentially costly and overlapping regional and national measures.”
Both air travel and international shipping were not covered by the Paris accord, agreed on in December.
The Paris agreement reached the threshold that puts it into effect, having been signed by countries responsible for 55 percent of global emissions, with ratification by the European Union on Tuesday. That agreement will go into effect after the UN meeting in Morocco next month.
The new aviation agreement will require airlines to purchase credits to offset emissions, which will come from projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, such as alternative energy and conservation endeavors.
The plan has been criticized by environmental groups who believe it will fail to accomplish the original goal of the ICAO, which was to entirely offset any growth in air travel emissions after 2020. Supporters as well as critics have acknowledged that further steps must be taken to establish criteria for projects to offset emissions, and to develop a system for monitoring and reporting emissions.