China refutes reports it has withdrawn from the voluntary phases of CORSIA although its concerns remain
Sat 7 July 2018 – Reports that China has withdrawn from the voluntary pilot and first phases of CORSIA, the global carbon offsetting scheme for international aviation, are inaccurate, a representative of China’s delegation to ICAO has told GreenAir. He said China had yet to make a decision on whether to join CORSIA from the beginning and had been surprised that ICAO had continued to list it on the ICAO CORSIA website as an early participant without consultation. With the recent adoption by the ICAO Council of the CORSIA SARPs, China noted action had now been taken by ICAO to correct the listing. However, said the representative, China has concerns over the direction of CORSIA discussions and reserved its right under the Chicago Convention to take further action, including filing a difference to the SARPs.
The A39-3 resolution agreed at ICAO’s 39th Assembly in October 2016 requires the Secretariat to publish on the ICAO website updated information of the States that volunteered to participate in the pilot phase (2021-2023) and first phase (2024-2026) of the CORSIA scheme. ICAO had included China on the basis of a joint statement by the presidents of China and the United States in September 2016 at a G20 summit in China that said both countries would support the Assembly to reach a consensus on a global market-based measure to address carbon emissions from international aviation and “expect to be early participants in such measure”.
The Chinese delegation representative said by email: “In 2016, China made a lot of effort and compromise in reaching agreement together with other stakeholders on CORSIA during the 39th Assembly. However, China has not made a decision yet whether to join the CORSIA pilot phase or first phase. China has requested the correction of the inaccurate information on the ICAO CORSIA website for a long time and it is only recently action was undertaken accordingly, which coincided with the adoption of the SARPs as Annex 16 Volume IV of the Chicago Convention.”
The A39-3 resolution (para 9f) says that States are “strongly encouraged to voluntarily participate in the scheme as early as possible” but have up until June 30 of the preceding year to notify ICAO of their intention to join. This would suggest China has until June 2020 to make its decision on whether to enter the initial pilot phase, although from 1 January 2019 the SARPs require monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) compliance from all airlines conducting international flights with total annual CO2 emissions over 10,000 tonnes, regardless of whether or not the registry State has joined.
Following the adoption by the Council on June 27 of the CORSIA Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) – the MRV rulebook for the scheme – the Secretariat has revamped its CORSIA website, and the list of countries participating from the outset has been moved to a new page. The removal of China from the list, leaving 72 States, has resulted in the coverage of CORSIA in terms of international air traffic activity being reduced from around 88% to 75.95%.
China has indicated opposition on a number of occasions to CORSIA’s central objective of carbon neutral growth from 2020. In a reservation filed during the 2016 Assembly, it said the goal was “short of scientific justification, fairness and feasibility.” It argued developed countries had reached peak emissions from their international aviation activity and should take the lead in significant emissions reduction, whereas developing countries should have “adequate space” to develop and grow their activity. The CNG2020 objective constituted “de facto prejudices” against developing countries in their future growth of international air transport, China’s reservation statement added.
The statement also took issue with ICAO’s intention to develop compulsory standards and principles for emissions units to be used under CORSIA, for which China said ICAO had no mandate.
“Moreover, the practice of artificially restricting the range of emissions units available for international aviation is most likely to push up the cost of emissions reduction and provoke unfair competition in the international aviation industry,” it said. “In addition, the Council has yet to finalise the process of elaboration and approval of the emission unit criteria. It is therefore irrational and unfeasible to require States to commit their compliance before they have reviewed the criteria finally approved.”
The Chinese delegation representative said in its response to the ICAO consultation on the SARPs earlier this year that China had provided specific comments on emissions units, sustainable aviation fuel and other elements of the CORSIA Package.
“China has been pursuing the green development of civil aviation and has made significant contributions to promoting the building of a fair, reasonable and feasible scheme to address emissions for international aviation,” said the response. “The development and contents of the draft SARPs, as well as its implementation documents for CORSIA, should be open and transparent, and fully reflect the principles of common but differentiated responsibilities, equity and respective capabilities, which are commonly recognised by the international community for global climate governance in light of different national circumstances.
“CORSIA SARPs and its implementation shall not unjustifiably interfere with Sovereignty States’, particularly developing countries’, policy on climate governance and energy, and should not lead to excessive burden on developing countries.”
The representative said in answer to questions as to whether China would file a difference against the SARPs and whether it would permit its airlines to start monitoring their CO2 emissions from 1 January 2019 that it could not officially comment until it had received the ICAO State Letter on the SARPs.
However, he added: “At this stage, I can say the concerns of China were not addressed during the CORSIA SARPs discussion and adoption in the Council. China reserves the right under the Chicago Convention to take further action, including filing a difference to the SARPs. China draws the attention of all stakeholders to the legal advice of the ICAO Legal Bureau on CORSIA SARPs, implementation elements and supporting documents.
“China will continue its green and low carbon civil aviation strategy and will make every effort, including taking market-based measures, to promote the sustainable development of civil aviation. China is willing to cooperate with other stakeholders on the basis of equality and mutual respect.”
A spokesman for ICAO said the 72 States, representing nearly 76% of international aviation activity, that were voluntarily participating in CORSIA from its 2021 pilot phase still represented a significant majority of current international flight emissions.
“As things proceed, ICAO will continue to deliver and coordinate CORSIA capacity building to ensure that all States and territories who want to participate are fully prepared to do so,” he told GreenAir.
Meanwhile, the aviation industry continues to urge States to join CORSIA from the beginning.
“CORSIA is the first system to tackle emissions from any single sector on a global basis. The more States that take part, the more effective it will be in limiting CO2 emissions growth from international aviation,” said Michael Gill, Executive Director of the cross-sector Air Transport Action Group.
“With those States that have declared their intention to be part of the voluntary phases, over 75% of international aviation’s CO2 emissions growth will be offset after 2020. We expect this will increase with other States wishing to show climate and aviation leadership. And we stand ready to help any State prepare for implementation. This is alongside significant capacity building for the industry.”