Environmental NGOs fear voluntary participation in global aviation scheme will undermine carbon neutrality goal
Fri 16 Sept 2016 – Environmental NGOs have expressed strong reservations with elements of the proposed global market-based carbon scheme that will shortly be presented for approval by ICAO’s Member States at their upcoming Assembly that starts on September 27 in Montreal. They fear that relying on voluntary and unguaranteed participation in the initial phases of the scheme and what they see as weak environmental safeguards in the draft text will undermine the principle goal of achieving the carbon-neutral growth of international aviation emissions after 2020 (CNG2020). The level of ambition of the proposals falls well short of the climate commitment required by the global Paris Agreement, they argue, and have set out a number of measures that should be taken to strengthen the scheme’s environmental integrity.
As members of the International Coalition for Sustainable Aviation (ICSA), which has observer status at ICAO, the NGOs are fighting a campaign – FlightPath 1.5 – to ensure aviation contributes its fair share to the aspirational goal reached under the Paris Agreement of limiting the global temperature increase to 1.5⁰C above pre-industrial levels.
Lou Leonard, SVP Climate and Energy for WWF-US, told journalists yesterday in an ICSA media briefing that by not addressing international aviation in the Paris Agreement it had left “a gaping emissions hole big enough to fly an aeroplane through.” Without concerted action, he said, emissions from air travel are forecast to triple by 2050, consuming around 27% of a global 1.5⁰C carbon budget. The ICAO global market-based measure (GMBM) would be the world’s first sectoral scheme to cap global emissions and had great significance if countries could take it forward, he suggested.
“As the Assembly only meets every three years, we have to seize this opportunity,” he said. “It will be a litmus test for governments to show they are interested in not just showing up in meetings to sign the Paris Agreement but are actually willing to implement it and to take up those missing pieces that were not resolved in Paris.”
It was important to ensure that any ICAO agreement on the global scheme was ambitious, had the maximum coverage of emitters and aligned with the Paris goals, he added.
However, ICSA is concerned with recent developments on the proposal, which has switched from a mandatory scheme to a voluntary opt-in approach for the first six years (2021-2026). Another new addition to the text of allowing States to opt out of the scheme with just six months’ notice raised serious concerns about its durability, it said, and is calling for removal of the provision.
“The cost and environmental effectiveness of MBMs depend on predictable demand for, and supplies of, quality emission reductions. Investment in these, in turn, depends on consistent participation by governments,” ICSA said in a statement. A simple mechanism allowing countries to opt out at short notice would create competitive distortions and uncertainty for industry, it foresees.
ICSA is also calling on States to include essential safeguards into the text, such as a clear prohibition of emissions double-counting, and removal of text that seeks to prevent States from developing their own market-based measures. “States or groups of States always have the freedom to enter into more ambitious international arrangements,” it said. “The ICAO MBM should not interfere with this settled principle of international law.”
The NGOs are also pressing for a strong review clause that ratchets up ambition in line with Paris and text that provides a solid basis for the use of high-quality offsets and alternative fuels.
“If we see some of these elements that we are calling for are missing, it will be hard for the environmental community to embrace this agreement with completely open arms,” said Kelsey Perlman, Policy Officer with Carbon Market Watch.
With uncertainty now over the scheme’s emissions coverage as a result of the proposed voluntary approach, ICSA is calling on States to publicly affirm by the end of Assembly that they will participate in the scheme from the start in 2021.
“The text we have now means we are well off track to achieve the sector’s target of offsetting carbon emissions above 2020 levels,” said Perlman. “It has a lot of compromises, which is beneficial for reaching consensus, but has produced many new uncertainties and left a lot of problems unsolved. It also stipulates that those who do opt in will not be responsible for offsetting the rest of emissions from States that choose not to, which effectively undermines the CNG2020 goal.”
Annie Petsonk, International Counsel with the Environmental Defense Fund, said the emissions gap during the period of the scheme, which is designed to finish in 2035, is forecast in the region of 6 gigatonnes (Gt). About a third of a gigatonne could be reduced through the new ICAO aircraft CO2 standard and a little over a gigatonne could be saved from operational improvements, with just over 1.5 Gt coming from other technological developments. The remaining 3 Gt would therefore have to be addressed by the GMBM and, potentially, sustainable alternative fuels, she said.
Preliminary analysis of those countries who have already signalled their intention to join the scheme shows that around 2 Gt of this remainder could be offset through the GMBM as currently designed, said Petsonk. “This is a sizeable chunk of emission reductions but more still needs to be done and we need more countries to participate.”
Petsonk expects that although the number of countries that have publicly indicated a willingness to participate in the scheme from the beginning on the back of the current proposal is growing, there will still be efforts by some States to strengthen the text and by others to weaken it. “We don’t know how those pulls are going to balance out and we will have to wait until we get into the Assembly process to find out,” she said. “We have to hope that this pushing and tugging over the text does not destabilise the negotiations and cause them to fall apart. With the spotlight on it to deliver this agreement, it would be a black eye for ICAO if this was to happen. There is though a lot of momentum to keep this deal together.”