Airlines can count oil as ‘green’ under latest weakening of UN carbon scheme

Airlines will be able to declare the fossil fuels they burn to be green 'alternative fuels' under a UN scheme set up to tackle the climate impact of flying. For example, airlines burning kerosene could be rewarded with reduced obligations to buy carbon offsets simply because the refinery producing the oil was running on renewable electricity. The agreement on which fuels will be credited under the scheme, which is known as CORSIA, was reached last night at the UN aviation agency ICAO in Montreal.

Saudi Arabia, with the backing of the United States, secured the new definition of alternative fuels to include “clean oil” in the UN climate scheme – despite fossil fuel use having no future under credible climate plans. This redefinition is yet another downgrading of the environmental integrity of the scheme.

CORSIA aims to cap aviation’s future emissions growth by obliging airlines to buy offsets, not by reducing aircraft emissions. The European Commission’s own research has found that only 2% of offsetting projects under the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) clearly reduce emissions.[1] The EU has banned offsets from its flagship climate laws, the Emissions Trading System and the 2030 national climate targets (Effort Sharing Regulation), for this reason.

Andrew Murphy, aviation manager at T&E, said: “CORSIA looks more and more like an awful deal for the climate. The EU has tried long and hard to get a better agreement but in the end airlines, supported by Saudi Arabia and Trump’s America, have got what they want. The attempt to greenwash oil is just the latest example of this.”

Further weakening is possible next October because the ICAO council has yet to decide on key rules covering the type of offsets which will be permitted. Seven European countries threatened to leave earlier this year over concerns about further watering down of the scheme’s environmental integrity.[2]

ICAO council agreed last night on the rules governing the monitoring and reporting provisions of the scheme, which are welcome. The European Council and Parliament will consider them over the coming months just as the European Commission prepares a pathway to the complete decarbonisation of the EU economy.

Andrew Murphy concluded: “Next year the European Commission will present a plan to decarbonise Europe by 2050. That strategy can’t be credible without a plan to decarbonise the fastest growing climate problem. With the ICAO process racing for rock bottom, it is now clear we’ll need the EU to take matters into its own hands and introduce measures to end aviation’s tax-free status, drive the uptake of low-carbon fuels and technologies, and begin to tackle the non-CO2 greenhouse gas effects of flying.”

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

Note to editors:

[1] How additional is the Clean Development Mechanism? (2016) Study prepared for European Commission.

https://ec.europa.eu/clima/sites/clima/files/ets/docs/clean_dev_mechanism_en.pdf

[2] Portugal recently published its concerns about CORSIA, joining six other European states which had already done so.

https://www.transportenvironment.org/press/six-european-countries-threaten-leave-jet-biofuel-and-offsets-scheme-over-environmental


Contact the press team

Nico Muzi
Communications Director
+32 (0)484 27 87 91 
nico.muzi@transportenvironment.org

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