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  • Airports’ climate programme relies on offsets excluded under EU laws

    Airports are relying on offsets excluded under EU climate laws to help achieve their voluntary target of ‘carbon neutrality’, research conducted by sustainable transport group Transport & Environment (T&E) has found. Airports’ efforts to reduce their emissions are welcome, but T&E said it is concerning that airports have been found using offset project types which are highly unlikely to deliver promised emission reductions and which would not qualify for the EU’s emissions trading system (EU ETS). The claims of carbon neutrality therefore cannot be credibly maintained without serious reforms to this programme.

    Andrew Murphy, aviation manager at T&E, said: “Many airports are claiming to be carbon neutral, but our research shows these claims must be taken with a pinch of salt. The airports are relying on offsets project types some of which the EU long ago ruled inadmissible due to concerns over their environmental integrity. This programme needs serious reforms if it is to be credible.”

    The Airport Carbon Accreditation (ACA) programme encourages airports to cut their emissions and achieve carbon neutrality through the purchase of offsets. However the ACA has only vague guidelines on what types of offsets may be used and airports are not required to publicly disclose which offsets they purchase. As a result airports are purchasing offsets which would not qualify under EU climate laws. For example, Milan Airport purchased offsets from a large hydro-dam which later collapsed causing enormous damage. Also, Athens airport relied on wind farm offsets originating in China – offsets which are unlikely to deliver additional emissions reductions and are banned from the EU ETS.

    The programme’s criteria for offset credits that airports are allowed to purchase is very general and, unlike the EU ETS, lacks a list of what type of projects cannot be used. T&E said the UN’s aviation agency ICAO, which is currently developing an offsetting scheme for aircraft emissions above 2020 levels, must learn from the mistakes of the airports scheme by agreeing effective environmental criteria which are strictly enforced and properly transparent.

    Andrew Murphy said: “Flawed programmes such as this are giving a green light to airport expansion and the resulting surge in aircraft emissions. ICAO must not follow the same path and instead ensure there is a black list of dodgy offset projects that aircraft operators cannot avail of. The global scheme should also have a high level of transparency, so the public can judge whether it is delivering on its promised climate target.”

    As most airports only disclose how many tonnes of emissions have been offset, T&E checked carbon registries to see which offsets airports had purchased. According to industry figures, airport operations generate CO2 emissions which in total equate to 2-5% of all CO2 emitted by commercial aircraft. ICAO’s council is due to approve offsetting rules for the aircraft emissions scheme (CORSIA) later this month, before circulating them to all states for comment ahead of finalising the rules next June.

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    Report: Airports relying on offsets excluded under EU law