Climate 411

UN aviation agency sets a new standard for 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 in Montreal

As the world convened for COP 26, the United Nation’s civil aviation body announced a major milestone in the transition to sustainable flight by adopting an expanded set of sustainability criteria for sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).   

SAF — jet fuel made from renewable feedstock instead of fossil fuels — provides a distinct opportunity to put aviation on a pathway to net-zero climate impact by 2050. But, to achieve that level of success, the SAF that airlines will use to be eligible for ICAO’s emissions reduction program, the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), must meet a high standard of environmental integrity, and be accurately tracked and accounted for. Indeed, not all alternative fuels are equal. Some make environmental problems worse. Deploying SAF without a robust accounting and sustainability framework could negate the entire climate benefits and even increase emissions several-fold compared to fossil jet fuels.  

After years of hesitation, ICAO Council Members finally seized the opportunity to set these forward-looking sustainability safeguards, ensuring that SAF eligible under CORSIA lives up to its sustainability potential, and provides certainty for SAF producers as they make investments in the sustainability of their supply chains and operations.  

Not only is this decision a major milestone for ICAO, it is also the first time a UN body has defined a clear standard for what constitutes sustainability for a mitigation action. ICAO has also operationalized it with a full-fledged monitoring, reporting and third-party verification system including a high level of assurance, which makes CORSIA the most comprehensive SAF Framework adopted to date.  

ICAO’s decision also sends a clear signal to countries embarking in SAF policy: support for SAF must include robust environmental safeguards. This is critical because ICAO’s SAF framework can enable the production of truly climate beneficial SAF but only if paired with effective national policies that generate the needed economic incentives. 

The Council’s adoption of the SAF sustainability criteria is a turning point in the aviation sector’s journey to decarbonize—but it is far from its final destination. Now, countries, airlines, and fuel producers must take action to jump-start high-integrity SAF by shaping their national SAF policies accordingly.  

EDF, as a member of the International Coalition for Sustainable Aviation (ICSA), the group of environmental NGOs with observer status at ICAO, took a leadership role in this important development. EDF created the space for this negotiation to take place in ICAO’s Committee for Aviation Environmental Protection and was granted the privilege to co-chair the technical negotiations on SAF sustainability matters together with the International Air Transport Association (IATA). This privileged position gave us the capacity to thoughtfully design the negotiations and create the necessary coalitions to ensure, against all odds, the sequential adoption of the sustainability criteria and framework along ICAO’s political decision-making process. 

What’s the role of the SAF sustainability criteria?  

The role of sustainability criteria is to safeguard against direct and indirect negative effects on ecosystems and communities that are not captured or are underestimated by the lifecycle assessment approach, and to promote sustainable development.  

To be eligible under ICAO’s CORSIA, SAF needs to meet the following overarching goals across its supply chain:  

  1. Reduce greenhouse gas emissions compared to fossil jet fuel on a lifecycle basis. The criteria ensures that SAF provides meaningful emissions reductions, counted across the full lifecycle of the fuel from feedstock to flight, and including key indirect environmental effects such as indirect land use change. The 10% minimum emissions reduction required by ICAO might appear disappointing at first sight, but it should be noted that—in its current shape—it is only intended as a safeguard to ensure that any emission reduction claim in CORSIA is backed up with real emissions reductions that go beyond the uncertainties associated to the lifecycle assessment methodology. Independently, only SAF that delivers large emissions reductions makes sense economically and environmentally speaking, which means that SAF with large land use change emissions is tacitly disqualified as a viable production pathway. That’s the magic of assessing SAF on a lifecycle basis including indirect land use change emissions. 
  2. Protect ecosystems and natural resources. The robust set of sustainability criteria also includes environmental safeguards against negative environmental effects that are not captured by the lifecycle emissions assessment—defending water quality, soil health, air qualitybiodiversity and conservation values. 
  3. Present no risks to human rights, food security, or local economies. Ensuring that SAF feedstock production does not present social risks, ICAO prioritized the inclusion of human and labor rights, land use rights and water use rights for local and indigenous communities. 
  4. Promote the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. As a United Nations body, the ICAO championed these sustainability criteria aiming for SAF to contribute to the achievement of UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including eliminating poverty and promoting food security.  

What’s in the SAF sustainability criteria?  

The criteria cover 12 themes that encompass the three pillars of sustainability: social, environmental, economic. Provisions pertain to emissions reductions, carbon hotspots, water, soil, air, conservation, waste and chemicals, human and labor rights, land use rights and land use, water use rights, local and social development, and food security. For each theme, a principle a set of criteria are outlined. The criteria capture the binding provisions.  

To be eligible under ICAO’s CORSIA to generate emissions reductions for compliance purposes, SAF must meet the following criteria: 

Theme Principle Criteria 
1.  Greenhouse Gases (GHG) Principle: Sustainable Alternative Jet fuel should generate lower carbon emissions than conventional kerosene on a life cycle basis. Criterion 1: Sustainable alternative jet fuel shall achieve net greenhouse gas emissions of at least 10% compared to fossil jet fuel on a life cycle basis. 
2. Carbon stock 

  

Principle: Sustainable alternative jet fuel should not be made from biomass obtained from land with high carbon stock. Criterion 1: Sustainable alternative jet fuel shall not be made from biomass obtained from land converted after 1 January 2008 that was primary forests, wetlands, or peat lands and/or contributors to degradation of the carbon stock in primary forests, wetlands, or peat lands as these lands all have high carbon stocks. 
Criterion 2: In the event of land use conversion after 1 January 2008, as defined based on IPCC land categories, direct land use charge (DLUC) emissions shall be calculated. If DLUC greenhouse gas emissions exceed the default induced land use change (ILUC) value, the DLUC value shall replace the default ILUC value. 
 3. Water Principle: Production of sustainable alternative jet fuel should maintain or enhance water quality and availability. Criterion 1: Operational practices shall be implemented to maintain or enhance water quality. 
Criterion 2: Operational practices shall be implemented to use water efficiently and to avoid the depletion of surface or groundwater resources beyond replenishment capacities. 
 4. Soil Principle: Production of sustainable alternative jet fuel should maintain or enhance soil health. Criterion 1: Agricultural and forestry best management practices for feedstock production or residue collection shall be implemented to maintain or enhance soil health, such as physical, chemical and biological conditions. 
5. Air  Principle: Production of sustainable alternative jet fuel should minimize negative effects on air quality. Criterion 1: Air pollution emissions shall be limited. 
6. Conservation Principle: Production of sustainable alternative jet fuel should maintain or enhance biodiversity, conservation and ecosystem services. Criterion 1: Sustainable alternative jet fuel shall not be made from biomass obtained from areas that are protected for their biodiversity, conservation value, or ecosystems services, unless evidence is provided that shows the activity does not interfere with the protection purposes.
Criterion 2: Low invasive-risk feedstock shall be selected for cultivation and appropriate controls shall be adopted with the intention of preventing the uncontrolled spear of cultivated non-native species and modified microorganisms. 
Criterion 3: Operational practices shall be implemented to avoid adverse effects on areas that are protected for their biodiversity, conservation value, or ecosystem services. 
7. Waste and Chemicals Principle: Production of sustainable alternative jet fuel should promote responsible management of waste and use of chemicals. Criterion 1: Operational practices shall be implemented to ensure that waste arising from production processes as well as chemicals used are stored, handled and disposed of responsibly. 
Criterion 2: Operational practices shall be implemented to limit or reduce pesticide use. 
8. Human and labour rights Principle: Production of sustainable alternative jet fuel should respect human and labour rights. Criterion 1: Sustainable alternative jet fuel production shall respect human and labour rights. 
9. Land use rights and land use Principle: Production of sustainable alternative jet fuel should respect land rights and land use rights including indigenous and/or customary rights. Criterion 1: Sustainable alternative jet fuel production shall respect existing land rights and land use rights including indigenous people’s rights, both formal and informal. 
10. Water use rights Principle: Production of sustainable alternative jet fuel should respect prior formal or customary water use rights. Criterion 1: Sustainable alternative jet fuel production shall respect the existing water use rights of local and indigenous communities. 
11. Local and social development Principle: Production of sustainable alternative jet fuel should contribute to social and economic development in regions of poverty. Criterion 1: Sustainable alternative jet fuel production shall strive to, in regions of poverty, improve the socioeconomic conditions of the communities affected by the operations. 
12. Food security Principle: Production of sustainable alternative jet fuel should promote food security in food insecure regions. Criterion 1: Sustainable alternative jet fuel production shall, in food insecure regions, strive to enhance the local food security of directly affected stakeholders. 

Figure:  Sustainability Themes, Principles and Criteria recommended by ICAO’s Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection at its 2017 Steering group Meeting. The version eventually adopted by Council contains some enhancements but does not change fundamentally. The new version will be publicly released soon as an amendment to the ICAO CORSIA Document with the Sustainability Criteria.

How are  SAF sustainability criteria implemented?  

The ICAO sustainability framework works as an umbrella standard that relies on ICAO-approved independent Sustainability Certification Schemes (SCS) for its implementation.  These organizations define the sustainability certification requirements including the indicators and metrics to evaluate compliance with the criteria, set the requirements for certification bodies, auditors and accreditation bodies, and monitor the effectiveness of the assurance system. To become ICAO-approved SCS must undergo a thorough evaluation process and meet a comprehensive set of requirements in line with ICAO’s eligibility framework 

In conclusion, the newly adopted sustainability criteria take a robust and equitable approach, placing environmental and social safeguards on the production of SAF across its entire supply chain. It also provides a harmonized approach to ensure that airlines across the world strive for these same values of climate ambition, environmental integrity, human rights, and social equity.  

This new set of sustainability criteria and the broader sustainability frameworkare designed to ensure the future of flight allows travelers to see new horizons, connect with other cultures, visit faraway loved ones and collaborate internationally – while doing less harm to our climate, and respecting our environment, and local and indigenous communities.  As more countries, airlines, and fuel producers adopt and adhere to this robust criteria, the faster we can reach our destination of a net-zero emissions flight by 2050.  

Also posted in Aviation, International, Policy / Read 1 Response

COP26: 4 Reasons Carbon Markets Rules under Article 6 (Finally) May be Agreed in Glasgow

The SEC Centre in Glasgow Credit: CC0/PublicDomainPictures.net

The SEC Centre in Glasgow Credit: CC0/PublicDomainPictures.net

Interest in carbon markets is currently booming and with increased activity comes increased attention and, of course, familiar criticism. A high-integrity carbon market can help companies and countries increase their ambition on the pathway to net zero by mid century.

If designed well, the carbon market can channel public and crucial private sector investment from developed to developing countries and to the most urgent areas for climate action — like tropical forest protection.

A few key changes since countries met at COP25 in Madrid mean we are in a better position to get agreement on Article 6 at COP26 in Glasgow. Read More »

Also posted in Carbon Markets, News, Paris Agreement / Read 1 Response

The EU has the power to bring transformational change to global shipping

Container cargo freight ship with working crane loading bridge in shipyard at dusk.

This post was written by Panos Spiliotis, Global Climate Shipping Manager for EDF, and also appears on EDF Europe.

The European Commission’s “Fit for 55” policy package opens a powerful new opportunity to decarbonise shipping—a sector with a growing share of global emissions (roughly 3%) that is not covered by any EU climate target.

Released last week, the ‘Fit for 55’ package is the most robust policy proposal package set out by any of the world’s economies to date and signals to the international community that the EU is focused on its new target to reduce emissions by 55% by 2030. The Commission’s proposal to include international maritime transport in the EU Emissions Trading System can carry shipping a long way to a zero-carbon future; however, the policy suite fails in other ways to steer shipping entirely away from fossil fuels. Instead of kicking the can down the road, Brussels should chart a course that steers the sector away from liquefied natural gas (LNG) and toward cleaner options.

EU must stop favouring LNG
One key feature of the package, “Refuel EU,” mandates a progressive decrease in the carbon content of marine fuels. Unfortunately, the European Commission has put forward targets that will boost the use of LNG and biofuels in shipping—a pointless half-measure that will not lead to real transformative action. It is a sorely missed opportunity. If appropriately designed, the Refuel EU fuel standard could incentivize zero-carbon fuels.

Read More »

Also posted in Carbon Markets, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, International, Shipping / Read 2 Responses

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 Aviation / Comments are closed

A bold new commitment to the Paris Agreement is achievable – and essential for U.S. leadership

This blog post was co-authored with Nat Keohane, Senior Vice President for Climate at EDF.
The White House

Now that the United States is officially back in the Paris Agreement, after four years of climate inaction and denial, all eyes are on the Biden administration to see whether it will meet the moment by putting forward a new emissions reduction commitment that is both ambitious and credible. In order to hit both marks, the administration should commit to cut total net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% below 2005 levels by 2030 – a target that is consistent with the science and President Biden’s goal of a net-zero economy by 2050, commensurate with commitments of other advanced economies, and one that many state leaders, businesses, advocates and others are already calling for.

This year’s UN climate talks, known as COP26 and set to take place in November, will be a proving ground for the Paris Agreement framework. Countries must come to the table with more ambitious climate targets known as Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs. Collectively, these NDCs must put the world on a path consistent with the Paris Agreement’s objective of limiting global temperature rise to well below 2°C and pursuing efforts to limit the increase to 1.5°C.

The United States has the chance to regain a position as a global leader on climate – and to galvanize climate action around the world – by setting an ambitious target that meets the scale of the climate crisis. The new U.S. NDC must also be credible – meaning that one or more technically and economically viable policy pathways can be identified to achieve it. Using a range of analyses, a new EDF report demonstrates how a bold new commitment of reducing total net GHG emissions at least 50% below 2005 levels by 2030 is achievable through multiple policy pathways – and that charting an ambitious path on climate is essential for growing a stronger and more equitable, clean U.S. economy.

Read More »

Also posted in Climate Change Legislation, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, International, Jobs, Paris Agreement, Policy / Comments are closed

Saving and restoring tropical forests has enormous value for the planet and the economy

Aerial view of the Amazon Rainforest, near Manaus, the capital of the Brazilian state of Amazonas. Neil Palmer (CIAT). Source: Wikimedia Commons.

This post was authored by Sabine Fuss, Group Leader for Sustainable Resource Management and Global Change at the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC), Ruben Lubowski, Chief Natural Resource Economist at EDF, and Alexander Golub, Adjunct Professor of Environmental Science at American University

The protection of tropical forests globally is indispensable for significantly increasing climate ambition in line with Paris Agreement goals as illustrated by a tremendous return on climate investment, according to our new article in the journal Global Sustainability.

Without dedicated efforts to protect tropical forests, tropical deforestation will contribute to the atmosphere on the order of 200 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions through the end of the century. Allowing this deforestation to occur would make the transition extremely difficult, requiring drastic immediate cuts in difficult-to-decarbonize sectors at high costs with no flexibility to allow benefitting from ongoing innovation and cost reductions. Unmitigated tropical deforestation would also put net zero emissions out of reach without large-scale deployment of Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) technologies, which would require an unanticipated ramp-up of new infrastructure pervaded by a diverse array of uncertainties.

Protecting and restoring tropical forests as envisioned under the international finance framework REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) thus provides the world with greater flexibility to implement deeper cuts in emissions. Other studies have also recognized the importance of REDD+ for climate stabilization, but ours goes a step further by determining the economic value that REDD+ can provide by enhancing global flexibility for reducing emissions.

For our study, we applied the widely used climate economics model DICE developed by US Nobel Prize winner William Nordhaus. DICE shows the cost of achieving climate targets by using the most favourable mix of mitigation measures, but has so far not explicitly reflected the mitigation potential of tropical forest conservation. Our analysis incorporates more recent estimates from Jonah Busch and colleagues of the CO2 impacts of protecting and restoring tropical forests and of the direct opportunity costs of such activities, i.e. how much it would cost to forego the economic benefits of clearing or of allowing forests to regenerate – a key concern in many developing countries and often a strategic decision because of the large role that agricultural exports play in the economy.

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Also posted in Carbon Markets, Forest protection, REDD+ / Comments are closed