Backbone of the Paris Agreement has undertones in ICAO’s CORSIA scheme

International aviation emissions are not explicitly addressed under the Paris Agreement, but their successful regulation nevertheless relies on the same elements of transparency and global stocktake as in Articles 13 and 14 of the Agreement.

Earlier this fall, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) passed the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) as one of the tools in its “basket of measures” to obtain carbon neutral growth by 2020. While there are many tools in this basket that are designed to work together to achieve ICAO’s carbon neutral goal, CORSIA, the final tool, strives to fill gaps with offsets. However, several details surrounding these offsets remain unclear.

Jos Delbeke offers his perspective on ICAO’s CORSIA at COP22

Regardless of the specific details on CORSIA’s offsets, one thing is clear: transparency will be essential to its success. Like Article 13 of the Paris Agreement, transparency will help build trust among the parties. It will deter cheating and allow other countries to hold each other accountable. ICAO will provide transparency through a registry, which is currently under development.

In addition, CORSIA contains a counterpart to the global stocktake in Paris Agreement Article 14. Beginning in 2022, the CORSIA offset scheme will be reviewed every three years. At today’s panel on ICAO’s offsetting scheme, Jos Delbeke, Director General, DG CLIMA, European Commission recommended that ICAO use this review to vamp up the ambition of the scheme. He suggested that these reviews take into account scientific evidence to be sure the scheme is in line with the global goal of keeping the earth’s temperature increase below 2˚C (with efforts to stay below 1.5˚C). In this way, ICAO could bolster NDCs from the parties to the Paris Agreement.

The enormous momentum behind the Paris Agreement has spurred climate action among various entities, like ICAO, who do not fall directly under the treaty. However, in addition to momentum, the Paris Agreement has also provided a model for transparency and global stocktake that these entities can use when creating their own climate actions. Together, these elements will be essential to keeping temperature rises below 2˚ or 1.5˚C in the coming years

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Global aviation CO2 emissions cap almost clear for takeoff

While global aircraft emissions do not fall under the purview of the Paris Agreement, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has nevertheless been making strides toward regulating aviation carbon dioxide emissions.

Photo: Miranda Jensen

New ICAO scheme seeks to cap CO2 emissions at 2020 levels. Photo: Miranda Jensen

Last week at the conclusion of its 39th Assembly Meeting, ICAO members recommended for adoption “the first-ever global market-based measure adopted by an entire industry sector.” The Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) standards are designed as market-based measures to work alongside the airline industry’s whole “basket of measures,” with the goal of achieving “carbon neutral growth from 2020.” Other tools in the basket include technology improvements, alternative fuels, and operational changes.

The airline industry is among the fastest growing sources of carbon dioxide emissions, currently responsible for more than 3% of the world’s GHG emissions and projected to “increase seven times by 2050 compared to 1990 levels.” While aircraft manufacturers have already made significant progress on the technology front, ICAO claims that those developments alone would not achieve carbon neutral growth.

CORSIA will complement other developments in aircraft emissions regulation. Earlier this year, ICAO proposed the first global carbon dioxide emissions standards for aircraft. These standards call on aircraft manufacturers to use certain technologies in new models of aircraft starting in 2020 in order to improve fuel efficiency. Together with the other items in the basket of measures, these carbon dioxide emissions standards and the CORSIA program will help mitigate the aviation industry’s impact on climate change.

According to ICAO’s 2016 Environmental Report and Appendix B of the draft resolution, the CORSIA scheme requires airlines to purchase offsets to compensate for their portions of carbon dioxide emissions that exceed the country’s baseline. This baseline is calculated based on airline market shares and the country’s projected 2020 aviation emissions levels. The program will apply in a series of phases. The pilot phase (2021­­­–2023) and first phase (2024–2026) will both be voluntary for any country that would like to begin participating in the program before 2027. Indeed, a surprising number of countries have already signed up to do so. In the pilot phase, countries will have flexibility to choose the basis for offsets whereas the first phase will require a specific calculation for determining the offsets. CORSIA goes live in 2027, when all countries except LDCs, SIDS, LLDCs, and “states with very low levels of international aviation activity,” will be required to implement the scheme. However, if one or both countries on the route is exempt and not participating in the program, CORSIA offsets will not apply to that route.

Some claim that ICAO’s CORSIA scheme does not go far enough to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Groups like Transport and Environment question the effectiveness of offsets and argue that the standards are not rigid enough to achieve carbon neutral growth. However, others such as Boeing are supportive of these new measures, applauding ICAO for helping industry curb aviation emissions.

In addition to these developments at ICAO, the United States has also been constructing the framework to regulate aviation GHG emissions. In August, EPA issued an endangerment finding, which concluded that six greenhouse gas emissions (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride) “endanger public health and welfare” under the Clean Air Act. This conclusion paves the way for EPA to regulate aircraft emissions domestically.


(Carbon) Free Birds?

ICAO planeThe GHG emissions of air and maritime transportation have been outside the regulatory reach of the UNFCCC and its Kyoto Protocol since the get go.  Protocol Article 2.2 leaves it to developed country parties (listed on Annex I) to work toward industry self-regulation via the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Early drafts of the Paris Agreement included proposals to bring these “bunkers” fuels under the new agreement, but they did not make the final cut.

So it is noteworthy that this week, ICAO proposed its first emissions standards for aircraft. The proposed rules are aimed at large aircraft – those weighing over 60 tons – which account for more than 90% of international aviation emissions.  The rules require all new aircraft to reduce fuel use and increase efficiency, with new designs as of 2020 and new deliveries of current in-production designs as of 2023. Production of aircraft designs that do not comply with these standards would stop by 2028.

Aviation emissions currently account for 2% of global CO2 emissions, which is equivalent to those of Germany or the UK. But the number of flights is expected to double by 2030.

Given that the United States accounts for half of global CO2 emissions from aviation, and that airplane travel accounts for 11% of all transportation emissions in the U.S., last year the EPA moved toward regulating US aviation emissions under the Clean Air Act by making an endangerment finding.   In this way, the U.S. would regulate its aviation transportation emissions akin to how it currently regulates domestic car and truck emissions through fuel efficiency standards that spur new, lower emitting designs.  But the EPA held off drafting its own rules, awaiting ICAO’s action that would bind the aviation industry worldwide and thus not put U.S. airlines at a disadvantage.