UN body votes to ground EU’s aviation emission efforts
07 October 2019 | Mitigation
The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), a United Nations agency, decided on Friday (4 October) to press ahead with plans to make its emissions offsetting scheme the only option available to its 193 member states, teeing up a dilemma regarding the EU’s own system.
EU delegates have been criticised for failing to raise meaningful objections to CORSIA, an instrument designed to force airlines to limit their environmental impact but which could torpedo Europe’s own emissions trading scheme (ETS).
The ETS currently includes all flights that operate within the European Economic Area but precludes trips in and out of the catchment area. A new ICAO resolution now says that CORSIA “should be the only market-based measure applied to international flights”.
ICAO wants to avoid duplicative counting of emissions but EU countries were asked by both the European Commission and Parliament ahead of the meeting to lodge a formal “reservation” when appropriate. Only verbal objections were made by transport officials.
A Commission spokesperson reiterated after the assembly had finished that the EU is committed to CORSIA’s implementation but that it should co-exist with the bloc’s own policies and efforts to meet the terms of the Paris Agreement.
Dutch Green MEP Bas Eickhout said that “again, the EU doesn’t dare to draw the line at ICAO”, adding that the UN body is “not up to the [climate] task so the EU should continue with its regional approach”.
CORSIA and the ETS differ in that the UN scheme requires airlines to make payments to offsetting schemes around the world, like forestry projects, while the ETS is a market-based mechanism tied to a carbon price that can go up and down.
Clean mobility group Transport & Environment released new analysis in September that suggests aviation emissions would increase by 683 million tonnes of CO2 over the next decade if the EU relies solely on CORSIA.
That figure is equivalent to the annual emissions of France and Poland combined.
“The UN offsetting scheme will allow airlines to go on growing their emissions while paying others for cheap offsets. In a world where every sector needs to reach zero emissions, the sums don’t add up,” said T&E expert Andrew Murphy.
However, the head of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Alexandre de Juniac, said that “we need to implement CORSIA successfully. It’s essential to our promise of carbon-neutral growth.” IATA insists that offsetting could stimulate more than $40 billion in climate financing.
In 2021, CORSIA begins its voluntary phase, which all EU countries have agreed to join. India and Russia are notable absentees, while China has also soured on the idea. In 2016, 65 countries signed up for the demo and now the number has grown to 81.
The scheme is meant to be fully operational by 2027 and include all ICAO members. A review of the EU ETS is scheduled for 2024, when officials could decide to let the scheme revert to including all flights in, out and within the bloc.
Incoming Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen has tasked her transport Commissioner with tweaking the ETS before that point though, by extending it to shipping and cutting free emission permits for airlines.