Europe presses ICAO Council for decision on CORSIA's carbon offset eligibility criteria
ICAO Council chamber (photo: ICAO)
Fri 22 Feb 2019 – Europe is pressing the governing ICAO Council to approve at its current 216th Session the emissions units criteria (EUC) that will underpin the eligibility of carbon offset credits that can be used under ICAO’s CORSIA scheme. The EUC are a key piece of the whole CORSIA scheme and they are essential to its environmental credibility, a European representative on the Council told GreenAir. A draft of the criteria has been in circulation for over a year and a group within ICAO’s CAEP technical committee has been carrying out informal testing of some offset programmes against the criteria, as well as providing recommendations on the Technical Advisory Body (TAB). Made up of experts, the TAB will recommend to the Council on eligible emissions units. States have been contacted to nominate candidates for the TAB and provide comments on the EUC for consideration and approval at the Session, which runs until March 15.
The Council provisionally approved at its 212th Session in November 2017 the design elements eligible offset credit programmes must meet and also eight eligibility criteria:
Programmes must generate units that represent emissions reductions, avoidance, or removals that are additional.
Credits must be based on a realistic and credible baseline.
Credits must be quantified, monitored, reported and verified.
Credits must have a clear and transparent chain of custody within the offset programme.
Credits must represent emissions reductions, avoidance or carbon sequestration that are permanent.
Credits should be generated from projects that do not cause emissions to materially increase elsewhere (i.e. leakage).
Credits are only counted once towards a mitigation obligation, with measures in place to avoid double issuance, double use or double claiming.
Credits must represent emissions reductions, avoidance or carbon sequestration from projects that do no net harm.
Around 30 States responded to a letter sent by the Council President in November 2018 asking for comments on the EUC, with many responding positively and calling on ICAO to approve the criteria and swiftly move towards the completion of the full CORSIA Package and its final implementation elements.
However, a point of contention between States remains over vintage dates, or the age of the offset credits that will be permitted. A fundamental principal of the CORSIA scheme, many believe, is that an offset credit program must provide an assurance that the emissions reductions would not have occurred in the absence of the scheme. Certain countries, including Brazil, have previously indicated that there should be no restrictions. Some observers say this is partly due to the country holding a considerable quantity of unused carbon credits under the UNFCCC’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) that it wishes to dispose of. The CDM has a poor record when it comes to additionality, found a report by Oeko Institut published in 2017 (see article).
For this reason, European States have told ICAO that it is important to reach an agreement on a vintage date and any continued delay on a decision is unacceptable and would have severe negative consequences for CORSIA’s environmental integrity, as well as not allowing compliance with paragraph 21 of Resolution A39-3 adopted at the last ICAO Assembly that gave birth to the global scheme. The paragraph says emissions units generated from UNFCCC mechanisms are eligible for use in CORSIA providing they avoid double-counting and are of an eligible vintage and timeframe.
Most European States would support acceptance of UNFCCC credits issued from projects initiated after 31 December 2020 as being deemed CORSIA-eligible, but only for the pilot phase (2021-23) and if issued by countries who have committed to set up a robust system to avoid double-counting. A smaller number of other European States say they would accept an earlier date, with one suggesting from 1 January 2017 and so consistent with Resolution A39-3 adopted towards the end of 2016. Another country suggested the application of a progressive vintage in order to manage supply and demand.
China, on the other hand, believes ICAO has no legitimate mandate or expertise to certify the emissions units of states and regions. While accepting the proposed EUC are an important guide to certification of eligible units for use by CORSIA, it contends they have no mandatory binding force. European States though are insistent the EUC must be legally binding in full, and uniformly and consistently applied across all States. They argue this is to ensure a global level playing field to avoid creating market distortions, provide certainty to airlines and also to avoid infringing the ICAO principle of non-discrimination on the basis of nationality. This view is supported by some other non-European States.
The United States is clear that it supports the draft text on the EUC in its entirety and says it opposes any revision to the wording. The criteria are based on global best practice and effectively balance the objectives of environmental integrity, administrative simplicity and cost-effectiveness, it says. Other countries, including China, want to see some minor changes to the design elements of eligible offset credit programs, which has a problem with wording on matters such as “social safeguards”, which it regards as a vague concept and inoperable in practice. Others point out, for example, that many programs such as the CDM do not have the provisions to address “do no net harm” as specified under Criterion 8.
The Council Session is also to consider the formation of the Technical Advisory Body and advice on procedural rules that were agreed at the recent CAEP/11 meeting (see article). The Session will review nominated candidates and is expected to approve the TAB membership, which will be based on a balanced geographical representation.
“We are determined to have the EUC approved by the Council at this Session,” a European representative on the Council told GreenAir. “The criteria have been successfully tested by the Program Testing Group of CAEP and have been proved fit for purpose. Now is the time to send a signal to operators and markets that ICAO is moving ahead.
“The EUC are a key piece of the whole CORSIA scheme, and they are essential to its environmental credibility. The TAB should also be instituted without delay. Consultations are ongoing on both issues among Council members.
“The current Session is the most appropriate as during the next, in June, we will be burdened by preparations for our 40th Assembly this autumn.”
Earlier this week, EU foreign ministers called on ICAO to “swiftly implement an effective CORSIA, while ensuring its environmental integrity, and agree on a long term goal at its next Assembly.”