12 European countries put UN’s weakened aircraft CO2 scheme on notice

The environmental impact of a global carbon offsetting scheme for aviation is coming under renewed scrutiny after 12 European states told the UN aviation agency they will consider pulling out if safeguards are weakened any further. Countries meeting at ICAO later this month are set to finalise the rules governing the use of offsets and alternative fuels allowed under the scheme, known as CORSIA, which is supposed to cap net aircraft emissions at 2020 levels.

 

France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Finland and Norway put CORSIA on notice in separate letters to the UN agency, documents released to T&E show. “... [I]f States were to question certain aspects of the compromise reached, particularly with regard to emission units and the sustainability of alternative fuels, the agreement given by France to this version of the text would be compromised,” France’s letter to ICAO states.

Last November ICAO controversially agreed to almost entirely remove sustainability criteria for the jet biofuel to be recognised under the offsetting scheme. This is set to become the de facto global standard for biofuel use in the aviation sector. EU member states had caved  in to pressure from Brazil, the US and others to slash the original 12 environmental and social safeguards down to just two. Rules on land rights, food security, labour rights and biodiversity protection were scrapped.

T&E’s aviation manager, Andrew Murphy, said: “What started as a way to address aviation’s runaway emissions has, step by step, turned into yet another greenwashing exercise for the aviation industry. These countries are right to say they may walk away if it gets any worse, but in many respects, the damage is already done.”  

T&E has also seen documents that suggest Germany, Poland, Romania, Portugal, Slovenia and Malta are also prepared to end their participation in CORSIA over the same environmental concerns. However, these states have yet to make their responses available to the public.

Concerns about the quality of offsets to be used were also stated in the countries’ letters to ICAO. European states are calling for a so-called ‘vintage restriction’ which would limit offsets eligible under the scheme to those from projects created after 2016. T&E said that with the global offset market awash with cheap and ineffective credits, this vintage restriction is a proven measure to keep out some of the worst credits created in the 2000s and early 2010s. A failure by ICAO to adopt a vintage restriction would further call into question the environmental integrity of the scheme.

While European Commission automatically made public its submission about CORSIA, there is concern that the majority of ICAO countries are still refusing to do likewise. Other UN agencies, such as the UNFCCC, make such documents public as a matter of course yet ICAO’s process remain shrouded in a level of secrecy unsuited to setting effective environmental measures.

Andrew Murphy concluded: ‘States that have published their response should be applauded for their efforts to open up this cryptic process. It should not require such efforts to obtain relatively basic information, such as the position of EU member states on these draft offsetting and alternative fuel rules. We see a clear link between the near total lack of transparency and the continous weakening of environmental safeguards.’