New regulations will require airlines to cut emissions by up to 30 percent by 2020

WASHINGTON – The first round of the new emissions standards for airlines are now under way, in line with the government’s long-awaited rule on carbon emissions from passenger planes.

The new requirements – negotiated by the International Civil Aviation Organization, an intergovernmental agency of 191 countries – are designed to cut the emissions caused by airplanes by as much as 30 percent by 2020, compared with the levels they reached in 2005.

At present, the largest emitter of air travel greenhouse gases is the United States, which emitted about 21.9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2005, followed by China, at 11.5 million metric tons, and India, at 8.4 million metric tons.

The new regulations, which the ICAO unanimously approved in October, will not affect flights to and from the United States, as they do not need to be measured in accord with the new standards.

For now, the United States, the European Union and China all plan to comply by 2015, but the European Union has said it will proceed unilaterally to slash emissions from commercial flights across its internal borders. Washington has said it will comply by 2017, but is not bound by the rules.

The consequences of these self-imposed deadlines, set before the ICAO finalized a comprehensive international program, were recently illustrated in Berlin, Germany, when German air traffic controllers instituted nationwide emergency closures of all of the country’s over-water runways over four nights in mid-February in anticipation of a week-long federal government shutdown that eventually proved false.

An international agreement on carbon emissions from aviation is crucial for the climate, as aviation’s emissions alone could make up 15 percent of all global carbon emissions within the next 20 years, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Carbon emissions from aircraft are particularly harmful because they do not have a “direct mechanism” for reducing pollution.

The new regulations under discussion did not address greenhouse gas emissions generated by the engines that fly the planes, which is where the regulation most directly addresses local greenhouse gas emissions.

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