ICAO reaches key stage in CORSIA implementation with adoption of SARPs but challenges remain over sustainability criteria
Thu 28 June 2018 – ICAO’s governing 36-State Council has adopted standards and rules for the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) that come into effect from next year. The scheme, which aims to cap net emissions from 2020, starts with a pilot phase in 2021 but airlines and other aircraft operators with annual CO2 emissions above 10,000 tonnes will have to measure and report their emissions from 1 January 2019 so a baseline can be established. The aviation industry said the adoption was a key step in CORSIA implementation but added important decisions were still required on sustainability criteria for offsets and alternative fuels eligible under the scheme. In a last-minute controversial decision, the Council agreed to extend the definition of sustainable aviation fuels under CORSIA to include lower carbon fossil-based fuels.
ICAO Council President Dr Olumuwiya Benard Aliu said the agreement to adopt the Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) as a new Volume IV to Annex 16 of the Chicago Convention, the treaty that underpins international civil aviation, had been critical for the timely introduction of CORSIA and the deadlines for airlines and States.
“This especially pertains to its monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) scheme, which describes in detail what has to be done, and by whom, starting with the collection of information on international aviation CO2 emissions by airlines as of January 2019,” he said.
Dr Aliu noted MRV provisions had already been tested before their adoption, with the support of the German government and participation of six additional States and 10 airlines.
Also approved at the Council meeting was ICAO’s CORSIA CO2 Estimation and Reporting Tool (CERT) for small aircraft operators to monitor and report their CO2 emissions, and an agreement was reached around the specifics for a CORSIA Central Registry (CCR).
“Significant effort was made at the global level to ensure that these CORSIA SARPs could be adopted within such a limited timeframe, and that States and airline operators would be prepared to use them,” said ICAO Secretary General Dr Fang Liu. “ICAO will continue to actively assist our Member States in these and other CORSIA preparations, both directly and through capacity-building partnerships.”
ICAO stressed CORSIA was just one element in its basket of measures on climate action, which also includes enhancing air navigation efficiency, its adopted aircraft CO2 certification standard and the long-term use of sustainable aviation fuels. Said Dr Aliu: “Aviation has now set out not only its climate change goals but also the means to achieve them. The progress achieved today is a clear demonstration of the unwavering commitment, on behalf of both governments and airlines, to minimise the future impact of international aviation on the global climate.”
Congratulating the Council on the SARPs adoption, Michael Gill, Executive Director of the cross-industry Air Transport Action Group (ATAG), commented: “This now allows governments and industry to make final preparations for implementation before the CO2 emissions monitoring and reporting obligations commence in January 2019. The Council is to be commended for their fast progress on this important technical work.”
While IATA and the International Business Aviation Council continued working together on holding workshops for airlines and operators, Gill said there was also an urgent need for capacity building to ensure governments were ready to provide oversight on CORSIA compliance. “We call on the ICAO Secretariat to redouble its ongoing capacity building efforts for the Member States and encourage fast progress in this area.”
The adoption was also welcomed in a joint statement by the European Transport and Climate Commissioners, Violeta Bulc and Arias Cañete.
“It is an important step forward showing the shared commitment to implement CORSIA agreed in 2016 and to address aviation emissions,” they said. “Without any action, CO2 emissions from aviation are set to grow by up to 300% by 2050. Action by the aviation sector to reduce its carbon footprint is also a first step to reach the objectives of the Paris Agreement and keep global warming well below 2 degrees C.
“The EU and its Member States played a central role in securing this deal. This is another concrete illustration of European unity and of the global leadership of Europe in the fight against climate change. The EU will continue to push for robust and effective rules. Participation and implementation by all states around the world will be fundamental for the system to deliver on its objectives.”
To assist developing States with their MRV implementing measures, the EU is providing capacity building help to nations in Africa, the Caribbean Islands and ASEAN Member States.
Although ICAO described the Council adoption of the MRV rules as a “landmark decision”, tough challenges still lie ahead with the focus now on the remaining elements of the CORSIA implementation package, namely the evaluation of carbon market programmes against a set of criteria, the determination of its eligible emissions units (carbon offsets) and which aviation fuels will meet the scheme’s sustainability criteria.
ATAG’s Michael Gill said ICAO must quickly turn to these decisions, which are set to take effect in 2021. “Whilst we are very happy with the significant progress that has been made at ICAO so far, there are still a number of decisions and steps that must be taken. The establishment of the Technical Advisory Board to determine the types of offsets that can be used to comply with CORSIA must be given high priority. We would also like to see the Council agree to the full set of sustainability criteria for new aviation fuels.”
Annie Petsonk, International Counsel at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), said: “The adoption of the SARPs marks a significant step forward by ICAO in standing up CORSIA. But much work remains to be done before the end of the year to ensure that CORSIA as implemented actually delivers the anticipated environmental benefits. There are potential devils lurking in the details and the work needs to be completed with close coordination between government representatives in the UNFCCC and ICAO to ensure consistency between the two international agreements and prevent double-dipping with regard to carbon offsets and alternative fuel credits.
“ICAO must take unprecedented steps to establish technical advisory bodies that have broad participation, are free of conflicts of interest and operate transparently to ensure that proposed fuels and offsets actually meet the integrity criteria.”
In a controversial move, and following pressure from countries such as Saudi Arabia, the Council agreed to widen the definition of sustainable aviation fuels by allowing fossil-based – or conventional – fuels to be recognised under CORSIA if they meet a set of criteria that include a 10% or greater reduction in life-cycle CO2 emissions. These would be called ‘lower carbon conventional fuels’. Under CORSIA, fuels meeting ICAO’s sustainability criteria will reduce offsetting requirements by an amount corresponding to their life-cycle CO2 emissions reduction.
Responding to the decision, Gill commented: “The industry remains committed to the development of sustainable aviation fuel. It is conceivable that conventional fuels could be delivered with reduced CO2 life-cycle emissions, but we are firmly of the view that our long-term needs for sustainable fuels will have to be met through non-fossil sources and these should be the focus of research, development and funding.”
Petsonk said the last-minute inclusion of fossil fuels into the sustainable aviation fuels definition was “potentially troubling”, adding: “This change could present a serious stumbling block for CORSIA’s overall credibility, as it remains doubtful whether such fuels could meet the stringent criteria that the public will expect from this system.”
More reaction from industry, NGOs and carbon markets:
“We have worked closely with our industry partners for many years to advocate for this global landmark deal – and we applaud the efforts of Commissioners Bulc and Cañete in making it happen,” said A4E Managing Director, Thomas Reynaert. “We reiterate, however, our expectation that CORSIA shall be the only measure applicable to carbon emissions from flights within the EEA as of 2021. Any measures at the national and EU levels, such as the aviation EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS), would place an unfair double burden on European airlines and put them at a competitive disadvantage in the global market.”
The statement added: “In the context of this agreement, A4E continues to advocate for the development of robust sustainability criteria for alternative fuels and policy initiatives enabling a more widespread usage of biofuels. In addition, it is calling on the ICAO Council to make swift progress on the Emissions Unit Criteria for eligible carbon credits.”
Airlines International Representation in Europe (AIRE)
“The endorsement by ICAO of the key parameters of CORSIA is a very important step towards the final adoption of the scheme,” said a statement from AIRE, which has 16 holiday and scheduled airline members.
Added AIRE Director General Sylviane Lust: “Our members also acknowledge the instrumental role played by the European Union and its Member States in securing the deal and urge that all European Institutions agree, without delay, to implement CORSIA as a unique global scheme replacing the regional aviation EU ETS in order to ensure a global level playing field for a global industry.”
With the SARPs being just one element of the CORSIA Package, the detailed requirements for offsets and sustainable alternative fuels, considered by ICAO as essential for the implementation of CORSIA, have been left for approval at the next Council Session, pointed out CMW.
“The draft rules as they stand provide a good basis to avoid past mistakes of offsetting systems, where the majority of credits have made little-to-no impact in curtailing pollution levels,” said Transport Policy Officer Kelsey Perlman. “A delay of this decision could be dangerous if it means watering down these rules to allow substandard offset projects into the scheme.”
CMW said a main point of Council contention is the process to determine eligible offsets, with China and Brazil reiterating their positions to disregard a centralised approvals process and to provide automatic eligibility of credits from the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism respectively.
“If airlines were allowed to buy offsets from climate projects undertaken years ago, no new carbon reductions would be achieved to compensate aviation’s growing pollution. This underlines the need for date limiting eligible offsets under CORSIA to prevent the threat of worthless credits flooding the market,” said Perlman.
The Brussels-based group welcomed the Council agreement on the MRV provisions of CORSIA but was highly critical of the late decision to recognise under the scheme ‘lower carbon conventional fuels’. The redefinition is yet another downgrading of the scheme’s environmental integrity, it said.
“CORSIA looks more and more like an awful deal for the climate,” commented Andrew Murphy, Aviation Manager at T&E. “The EU has tried long and hard to get a better agreement but in the end airlines, supported by Saudi Arabia and Trump’s America, have got what they want. The attempt to greenwash oil is just the latest example of this.”
T&E believes further weakening is possible in October as the Council has yet to decide on offset eligibility rules, having already sent back sustainable aviation fuel rules on land rights, food security, labour rights and biodiversity.
“Next year, the European Commission will present a plan to decarbonise Europe by 2050. That strategy can’t be credible without a plan to decarbonise the fastest growing climate problem,” said Murphy. “With the ICAO process racing for rock bottom, it is now clear we’ll need the EU to take matters into its own hands and introduce measures to end aviation’s tax-free status, drive the uptake of genuinely low-carbon fuels and technologies, and begin to tackle the non-CO2 greenhouse gas effects of flying.”
International Emissions Trading Association (IETA)
“IETA broadly welcomes the timely adoption of the SARPs. Entities can now get going with the critical element of developing the sectoral baseline for calculating emissions going forward,” said Sophy Greenhalgh, IETA Director.
“We are now awaiting news on the set-up of the process and governance for approving offset programmes and what further limitations and restrictions will apply with regards to vintage timeframes and project types. Significant work in a short timeframe is now required to develop further details around emission unit eligibility, to give the carbon market and investors time to ensure a highly environmentally robust supply pipeline is available for CORSIA.”
IETA called for carbon market experts to add their input before those decisions are taken.
“We welcome further opportunities for consultations on programme design details,” said Greenhalgh. “We urge that ICAO makes clear how it intends to intensify its process so that it can progress work before the Council meeting in November on emissions unit criteria and other operational elements of CORSIA. It is essential to establish the quality specifications and approval processes as soon as possible for the market to deliver offsets that meet CORSIA’s environmental objectives.”