ICAO negotiations on CORSIA scheme challenging, European climate chief tells EU environment ministers
Thu 2 Mar 2017 – The goal of stabilising rather than reducing emissions from international aviation through the use of international carbon credits fell below EU climate ambitions but the agreement reached at the ICAO Assembly last October on the CORSIA scheme starting in 2021 was a welcome and necessary first step on climate action for the sector, Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete told EU environment ministers at a Council meeting on Wednesday. The EU’s responsibility now, he said, was to make the scheme work and improve it over time, consistent with the goals agreed under the Paris Agreement. Intensive ongoing negotiations at ICAO on the rulebook and governance of the scheme were challenging, he reported. The Commission proposes a continuation of the EU ETS ‘stop the clock’ (STC) legislation until 2020 to allow for the discussions to continue, with further assessment needed to ensure the aviation sector contributed to EU 2030 climate targets. Cañete urged the Council to swiftly reach an agreement with the European Parliament on STC.
He said the effectiveness and credibility of CORSIA (Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation) relied on implementing key rules on transparency and accounting, including double-counting avoidance and the quality of offsets to be used for compliance.
“They are undoubtedly challenging but we will need to work closely together to ensure a sufficient degree of robustness,” he described the ICAO ongoing process. “Equally important, the scheme will not take off if it’s not translated into domestic legislation.”
The EU was well advanced on transposing the required legislation on CORSIA implementation but this was not the case in most countries, he told ministers.
“This will be a test of the political determination of their intention to participate in CORSIA as signalled at the ICAO Assembly,” he said. “In that regard we will need to be vigilant as some key countries such as China have since submitted reservations against the objective of carbon neutrality and raised questions about ICAO’s legitimacy to address the quality of emission units. China still has to formally confirm too its intention to participate from the beginning of the scheme.”
However, he went on, there was a responsibility to both support the ongoing discussions in ICAO and ensure the EU acted on aviation emissions so that the sector contributed to European climate objectives, first by 2020 and later by the EU-wide target of reducing emissions by at least 40% compared to 1990 levels by 2030.
“At a time when other sectors of the European economy are being asked to do more, it’s clear the aviation sector also needs to do its fair share and this where a full comparison between the climate performance of the global scheme and the EU ETS against the EU domestic climate objective is essential.”
The present STC scope of the EU ETS, which is restricted to covering emissions from intra-EEA (European Economic Area) flights, was working well, he said, with compliance – including by airlines from third countries – very high at 99%. The Aviation EU ETS was also contributing carbon emission reductions of 17 million tonnes under the cap, he reported.
He said an agreement had been reached with EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc to propose a continuation of the reduced scope of the Aviation EU ETS until 2020.
“Keeping the EU ETS limited to intra-EEA flights will both help facilitate the remaining work at ICAO and achieve our emission reduction targets,” he said. “Between now and 2021, we will know more about the actual operation of CORSIA and its effectiveness. We should stand ready to adapt our legislation to allow for the implementation of CORSIA by the EU while mindful of the need to do so in a way that will be fully consistent with our 2030 climate objective.”
He said the European Commission proposed to report back to the Council on developments and come up at a later date with new amendments to the Aviation EU ETS to make it consistent with the 2030 target.
“We have to bear in mind that our 2030 target is based on domestic efforts while the ICAO system relies on international credits,” he said. “This is a major difference between CORSIA and the EU ETS, which also has a more ambitious baseline with obvious implications for climate performance.”
In the Commission’s proposal published early last month to continue with STC up until 2020, the accompanying impact assessment put forward a number of options that open up the possibility of two carbon schemes for aviation operating in Europe from 2021:
Continuing with the intra-EEA scope application of the EU ETS, with extra-EEA flights covered by CORSIA;
For intra-EEA flights, emissions above the EU ETS cap to be offset with EU allowances, with extra-EEA flights covered by CORSIA;
CORSIA applied to intra-EEA and extra-EEA flights, and the EU ETS additionally applied to intra-EEA flights to address emissions between the cap and 2020 levels; and
CORSIA applied to intra- and extra-EEA flights, while maintaining the legal base for EU action.
The ministers at the Environment Council were meeting to discuss and vote on proposals for the EU ETS in the 2021-2030 period as a whole, which include tougher rules that would also apply to aviation. The proposals were carried by a majority vote.
Cañete told the ministers that in the meantime there was “an imperative necessity” for the Council to reach a swift co-decision with the European Parliament with regard to the 2017-2020 period of the Aviation EU ETS, in which the Commission proposes to continue with STC. Under present legislation, STC ended in 2016 and provides for an automatic snap-back to the full scope of the EU ETS that covers both intra- and extra-EEA flights.
“Any delay or failure to reach a timely agreement means that we would automatically revert back to the original full scope with all the implications this would immediately have with our international partners,” he said.
Representing EU member states as the current President of the Environment Council, Malta’s environment minister Jose Herrera said work in the Council was already underway on the Commission’s response to the CORSIA agreement and the next steps on the EU ETS.
“Following the positive results in ICAO, the EU should strive to maintain the momentum and facilitate the work needed in order to operationalise CORSIA so that its first phase can begin in 2021,” he said. “I would like to reassure you the Presidency is committed to advancing work within the Council on this new legislative proposal. We will also be ready to engage constructively with the European Parliament at the appropriate time in order to facilitate swift agreement between the co-legislators.”