Environmental groups criticise ICAO over lack of CORSIA transparency and threat to biofuel sustainability criteria
Fri 18 Nov 2017 – ICAO has come under fire from two environmental groups over a perceived lack of transparency on decisions concerning its CORSIA global carbon offsetting scheme and fears that sustainability criteria for the use of biofuels qualifying under the scheme are being heavily watered down. ICAO’s governing Council has been meeting in Montreal to discuss detailed regulations on the operation of the scheme that have been drawn up by its technical committee CAEP. However, CAEP confidentiality rules and the closed-door Council sessions are allowing ICAO to develop climate policy in isolation and this risks undermining the Paris Agreement, argues Carbon Market Watch. Meanwhile, Transport & Environment says it understands political interventions in the Council could lead to the removal of 10 out of the 12 sustainability criteria for biofuels recommended by CAEP. The CORSIA Package, as it is known, is due to be sent shortly to all ICAO states for scrutiny and approval.
CORSIA, says Carbon Market Watch (CMW) in a new analysis report, is currently the only significant carbon offsetting scheme in the post-Kyoto period when the Paris Agreement comes into force, and the reliance on purchasing carbon credits from reductions in other sectors poses significant challenges to ensure the integrity of the scheme. Transparency on how the CORSIA rules will be designed as well as opportunities to engage in this process by all affected stakeholders are paramount for the scheme’s effectiveness, it argues.
However, it accuses ICAO of developing the rules “locked away from the public domain … and shielded from public scrutiny.”
CORSIA will have a direct impact on countries’ compliance with the Paris climate targets and at a time when wider UNFCCC climate talks are taking place at COP23 in Bonn to discuss emission reduction transfers between countries, it is unclear how carbon credits purchased by airlines are booked to avoid double counting of reductions towards ICAO and the Paris goals, says CMW.
“Aviation’s measure risks blowing a giant hole in the Paris Agreement,” said CMW Aviation Policy Officer, Kelsey Perlman. “The irony is that delegates in Bonn and Montreal are currently negotiating interlinked climate issues, with one held in public and the other behind closed doors.
“ICAO needs to allow for more public scrutiny, but the truth is we can’t afford to keep waiting to see how this measure affects global climate ambition.”
CMW points to parliamentarians in Europe asking their governments for more information on CORSIA. During a recent debate in the European Parliament, a Commission official with knowledge of the contents of the CORSIA Package was unable to reveal details to members of the Parliament because of ICAO non-disclosure rules.
“The European countries that have defended transparency this week in Bonn while sitting in the dark in ICAO, need to open up the debate,” said Perlman.
How ICAO interprets transparency and public participation requirements is covered in a new paper by the Columbia Law School, which finds the ICAO governance process falls short of the public information requirements of the Aarhus Convention. The international treaty grants the public rights of access to information, participating in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters, according to the report. Of the 45 countries that are members or observers of the ICAO Council and CAEP, 13 have signed up to the treaty.
“The ICAO rules of procedure allow for access to information and public meetings but inexplicably these rules have not been followed in the decision-making process around the sector’s offsetting scheme,” said Aoife O’Leary, author of the study. “And this despite the obligations the Convention places on many of the ICAO member and observer countries.”
The CORSIA Package – comprising draft regulatory Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) and guidance material – is due to be sent to all ICAO States next month, who will only be given up to four months to scrutinise and respond before adoption by the Council in June next year.
In its annual submission to the UNFCCC subsidiary body SBSTA, which met during COP23, ICAO said having rules in place covering monitoring, reporting and verification of the sector’s carbon emissions was the immediate priority so that States and airlines can be ready to report emissions from 2019. “After that, ICAO will determine eligible emissions units which airlines purchase in order to meet offsetting requirements under CORSIA,” it added.
In another submission to SBSTA, Chile – with the support of Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Peru – said given its projected growth, the aviation sector would be required to compensate 3.3 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions during the period of CORSIA’s existence (2021-2035).
“As these compensations would mainly be supplied by activities outside the sector, Parties to the Paris Agreement should carefully consider the relationship between CORSIA and the Paris Agreement. Parties should seek ways to further collaborate in the climate change process. This should create synergies and mutual support on the overall objectives of the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement, and the objectives of ICAO Resolution A39-3.”
Meanwhile, Transport & Environment fears that at the current ICAO Council Session, member states have voted to reject ten key sustainability criteria out of the 12 that were submitted to the Council by CAEP experts for biofuels that would qualify under CORSIA. Under the scheme, airlines using sustainable aviation fuels can be credited against their emissions obligations. A CAEP working group had recommended the defining criteria of “sustainable” that included 12 environmental and social safeguards.
According to T&E’s own sources, the two surviving rules are a 10% greenhouse gas reduction target for biofuels compared to fossil jet fuel and a ban on crops grown on land that was deforested after 2009. Removing the remaining safeguards is contrary to UN’s globally agreed Sustainable Development Goals, it said.
The sustainability rules have implications beyond CORSIA because they will become the de facto global standard for biofuel use in the aviation sector, it added.
The Brussels-based group criticised the European Commission for agreeing to the Council position, which T&E claims has been supported by France, Sweden, Italy, Spain, Ireland and Germany, although opposed by the Netherlands and the UK.
“If this extreme weakening of the sustainability criteria for biofuels is confirmed, the European Commission will have effectively surrendered to ICAO, showing how little it cares about human rights or biodiversity,” said Carlos Calvo Ambel, T&E Analysis and Climate Manager.
Responding to T&E’s claim, an aviation industry spokesperson said: “The aviation sector has been working hard to ensure that the deployment of alternative fuels is done in a sustainable way, including as part of the CORSIA package. Industry is working with environmental groups and governments through the ICAO experts process to develop a robust set of sustainability criteria for the use of these fuels.
“We await the outcome of the Council meeting but according to reports, the sustainability criteria were partially adopted, with some being sent back to the experts for further evaluation in the coming months. Nothing was rejected, as we understand it, but rather needs more study. It is vital that this process is able to be done in a robust manner so we can rely on these elements well into the future.”
In its SBSTA submission, ICAO said its recent Conference on Aviation and Alternative Fuels had “confirmed the critical importance of ensuring the sustainability of aviation alternative fuels, which is currently under consideration by ICAO.”
Editor’s note: CORSIA will be the focus of the upcoming Aviation Carbon 2017 conference that takes place in London on December 4 and 5, with a session devoted to the role of sustainable aviation fuels in the global carbon offsetting scheme.