Sufficient supply of high quality carbon credits and sustainable fuels to meet aviation CO2 goals, finds study
Wed 15 June 2016 – A study commissioned by WWF finds airlines could meet most of their carbon-neutral growth (CNG) requirements during the 2020-2035 period even if they focus on buying carbon credits for which there is both a high confidence in greenhouse gas reductions and demonstrable benefits under the UN’s sustainable development goals. Although there is greater uncertainty in how the supply of alternative jet fuels can contribute to the ICAO CNG goal, the study shows those fuels with appropriate eligibility criteria to advance sustainable development objectives could yield GHG reductions of up to 9% of the goal. WWF is calling on ICAO to send a clear signal in its forthcoming Assembly Resolution on a global market-based measure (GMBM) that only carbon credits and alternative fuels that achieve real emissions reductions and promote sustainable development will be recognised, and detailed rules are finalised as soon as possible.
According to the study carried out by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), CO2 emissions from international aviation amounted to 490.4 million tonnes (Mt) in 2013 and are expected to rise to between 682 and 755 Mt by 2020 and 1223 to 1376 Mt by 2035.
The ICAO proposal to be put to its Assembly in September is expected to call for a GMBM scheme to start in 2020 and designed to end in 2035 that would cap net emissions from 2020 through the use of carbon offsets. A key issue is the sustainability of the measures to be credited under the scheme, and SEI was commissioned by WWF to look into the sustainability of offsets in the market and the availability of aviation alternative fuels. The study examines the potential supply of offsets and jet fuel alternatives from different biofuel pathways during the 2020-2035 period in terms of environmental integrity and support of the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs).
SEI’s analysis evaluated the integrity of offset project types based on how easily a typical project can meet criteria for additionality, quantification certainty and verifiability. Higher quality credits were defined as project types that generally have no other revenue streams, have costs that can be covered by carbon revenues, have high quantification certainty, have no leakage effects and can be easily monitored.
The authors of the study found that carbon offsets from project types for which there is high confidence in environmental integrity, and which advance SDGs, could yield emission reductions of around 3.0 gigatonnes (Gt) CO2e, making up 70-90% of ICAO’s projected demand for emission reductions of 3.3-4.5 Gt CO2e.
Including project types with medium confidence would expand the potential supply to 4.6 Gt CO2e and further expanding eligibility to types with neutral development impacts would increase supply to 5.1 Gt. REDD+ programmes could add a further 2.4 Gt of offsets if ICAO chooses to recognise them, finds SEI.
The potential supply of alternative jet fuels, which are still at the infancy stage, is subject to greater uncertainties but SEI estimates 0.1-0.3 Gt of CO2e emissions could be avoided during the period by using biofuels produced with little or no land use change impacts and backed by strong sustainability certification schemes.
Taken together, the analysis found there could be enough sustainable biofuel and high quality credits to satisfy up to 73% of ICAO’s higher demand forecast for emissions reductions (4.5 Gt CO2e) or 100% of its lower demand forecast (3.3 Gt CO2e). Any shortfall in reductions could be met either through greater action on efficiency, suggests WWF, or from carbon project types where certification is essential to ensure the promised reductions are achieved.
Offsetting should only be a last resort after making all efforts to avoid emissions, as a tonne of CO2 avoided is always better than the equivalent offset, argues WWF in its report on the study, and some offsets do not actually deliver emission reductions, while others can be detrimental to people and nature, it says.
Examples of carbon credits and alternative fuels supported by WWF include biogas carbon projects that turn organic waste into green gas for heating and cooking, and waste-based biofuels that avoid negative land use impacts. By contrast, it warns, some projects in the energy sector perpetuate reliance on fossil fuels and hold back the transition to clean renewable energy, while many conventional crop-based biofuels have damaging land use impacts on emissions, habitats and food security.
“ICAO must make it clear that carbon projects in the fossil fuel sector and conventional crop-based biofuels are not the answer, and should finalise binding sustainability criteria for both credits and fuels as soon as possible after the 2016 Assembly,” said WWF-UK CEO David Nussbaum.