Climate 411

UN aviation agency has an opportunity to bolster sustainable flight by adopting critical fuels criteria

This blog post was authored by Pedro Piris-Cabezas, Director of Sustainable International Transport & Lead Senior Economist at Environmental Defense Fund, and Anna Stratton, Consultant

ICAO building, Montreal

This month, the International Civil Aviation Organization, the United Nation’s aviation agency, is holding its 222nd Council meeting. On the agenda: an opportunity for ICAO Council to signal its commitment to a sustainable future for aviation by adopting an expanded set of sustainability criteria for sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).

SAF provides a distinct opportunity to put aviation on a pathway to net-zero climate impact by 2050, provided the SAF deployed actually reduces emissions, meets a high standard of environmental integrity, and is accurately accounted for. In 2017, ICAO’s Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection (CAEP) recommended a set of sustainability criteria to the Council, which adopted a portion of the criteria for its emission reduction program and delayed a decision on the rest. Environmental NGOs have called on members of the Council, who are 36 elected members from ICAO’s 193 Member States, to adopt CAEP’s full set of recommendations ever since.

ICAO’s emissions reduction program, the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation, or CORSIA, includes a comprehensive SAF framework. CORSIA’s design incentivizes the deployment of SAF that supports decarbonization. If ICAO Council adopts the full set of sustainability criteria recommended by CAEP, it will further strengthen the CORSIA SAF framework and help ensure that CORSIA SAF (1) promotes rather than undermines the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and (2) mitigates the emissions, ecosystem and community risks otherwise present in alternative fuel production and use.

EDF is a member of the International Coalition for Sustainable Aviation (ICSA), the group of environmental NGOs with observer status at ICAO. ICSA sent a letter to all Council Members calling for the adoption of the sustainability criteria as originally recommended by CAEP. In ICSA’s view, not only does the full set of criteria provide clear environmental benefits, adopting the criteria now will provide much needed certainty to SAF producers, as they make investments in the sustainability of their supply chains. Postponing the adoption of the sustainability criteria poses the risk of delaying investments in SAF production capacity, the scale-up of which is critical to the decarbonization of civil aviation.

What’s in the sustainability criteria?

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Also posted in United Nations / Comments are closed

CORSIA: No, the ICAO Council can’t legally change CORSIA’s rules

ICAO building, Montreal

In March 2020 the International Air Transport Association (IATA) wrote to the 36-member Governing Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) requesting that the Council re-write the rules of ICAO’s flagship Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA). CORSIA requires airlines to offset their carbon emissions above the average of 2019-2020 emissions.

Citing the unexpectedly low aviation emissions due to the tragedy of the COVID-19 pandemic, which could result in an increase in offset obligations at such time as air travel emissions increase above this average level, IATA wants the ICAO Council to change the emissions baseline to 2019 only. They argue that implementing CORSIA with the 2019-2020 emissions baseline, as originally written, would impose an “inappropriate economic burden on international aviation.”

The request is ironic: In an effort to lure back customers, airlines are publicly touting their commitments to reducing emissions – including to carbon offsetting. But behind the closed doors of the ICAO Council, they’re pushing a re-write that would give them a free pass to escape offsetting requirements for three to five years or more, according to analyses by EDF and other experts.

The request for a hasty re-write raises an important legal question. Does the ICAO Council have the legal authority to change a decision of the ICAO Assembly? It appears that while the Council could, at the current session, recommend that the ICAO Assembly change the baseline, ICAO’s Council lacks the legal authority to undertake this change itself. Below we review (a) the legal authority of the Assembly; (b) the legal authority of the Council; and (c) the legal character of the CORSIA baseline and Council’s authority in light of that legal character.

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Also posted in Carbon Markets, United Nations / Comments are closed

CORSIA: 5 reasons why the ICAO Council shouldn’t move now to rewrite the rules of its aviation climate program

Airplane, jumbojet on runway preparing for takeoff at sunset at the airport. iStock

The International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) Council is meeting through June 26, and Council members have been asked to make a decision at this session that could undermine the agency’s flagship climate program.

ICAO’s Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) requires airlines to offset emissions above a baseline set at the average of 2019-2020 emissions. However, the International Air Transport Association has asked the ICAO Council to change the baseline to reflect only 2019 emissions, citing the unexpectedly low aviation emissions in 2020 due to COVID-19 and concomitant potentially greater offset requirements for the industry.

Airlines have taken a massive hit due to the pandemic. They argue that they need to escape CORSIA requirements to save money. But hastily rewriting the fundamental structure of the industry’s market-based program to address airline carbon emissions would be penny-wise and future-foolish. Even as airlines are publicly touting their commitment to “sustainability measures like carbon offsetting,” the rule rewrite they are seeking behind the closed doors of the Council would give them a free pass to pollute with no offsetting requirements for three to five years or more, according to analyses by Environmental Defense Fund and other experts.

EDF is calling on the ICAO Council not to move now to change the rules of CORSIA. Deciding, at this Council session, to change the baseline year for CORSIA to 2019-only:

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Also posted in Carbon Markets, News, United Nations / Comments are closed

CORSIA: Industry-sought rule change threatens aviation climate program

https://www.pexels.com/photo/silhouette-of-airplane-during-sunset-99567/

Silhouette of Airplane during Sunset. Pixels.com

The coronavirus pandemic has created a global health and economic crisis that has affected families all over the world and nearly all industries, with aviation taking a particularly steep toll.

Airlines may feel under pressure to save money at any cost, but hastily rewriting the fundamental structure of the industry’s flagship market-based program to address airline carbon emissions would be penny-wise and future-foolish.

In a new analysis by Environmental Defense Fund, we look at the implications of a rule rewrite sought by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) to the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation, or CORSIA.

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Also posted in Carbon Markets, International, United Nations / Comments are closed

California’s experience with buyer liability shows how aviation can help ensure environmental integrity

https://www.flickr.com/photos/140970794@N06/30345941512

Airplane flying at sunset. Adam Clark, Flickr

The International Civil Aviation Organization is preparing to stand up its market-based emissions reduction program, the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation, or CORSIA. As it does so, ICAO must maintain CORSIA’s environmental integrity.

To that end, airlines should not be allowed to count, for CORSIA compliance, carbon credits that have been found to be invalid, e.g., fraudulently issued or otherwise not meeting CORSIA’s standards for credit quality. To ensure that all credits represent actual emission reductions, such substandard credits should be invalidated – even if the fraud isn’t exposed until after airlines have canceled the credits in CORSIA. The emissions for which the credits had been tendered have occurred, and still need to be covered by valid reductions in order to meet CORSIA’s promise of “carbon neutral growth.”

California offers one approach to how CORSIA can do this. In its market-based climate program, California has developed a way to cover the emissions from invalidated credits to uphold the integrity of its program and encourage emitters to invest only in high-integrity offsets. It’s known as “buyer liability,” which means that if the California Air Resources Board (CARB), the regulatory body, invalidates offset credits, then those who purchased the credits for compliance with California’s emissions limit must replace the invalidated credits. This ensures that emitters meet their full compliance obligations and that they are more diligent in selecting offsets.

Early on, California’s buyer liability approach caused some uncertainty among offset project developers. But seven years of experience demonstrates that buyer liability has worked in California’s carbon market. Here’s how we know:

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Also posted in California, Carbon Markets / Comments are closed

Three opportunities for the UN’s aviation agency to deliver climate action

Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

As International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) 40th General Assembly kicks off this week in Montreal, aviation faces an existential challenge: the need to zero out its climate impact. Greta Thunberg, whose refusal to fly symbolizes the question every child of her generation will face, leads a climate strike on this Friday, that will march right to ICAO’s gates. Will their demands move the delegates representing 193 countries meeting inside?

Here are three opportunities the Assembly can take to back up their climate commitments with real action.

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Posted in Aviation / Comments are closed