ICAO Moves Forward on CORSIA, But Must Step up Its Game on Transparency to Meet Aviation’s Climate Commitment

Countries approve criteria for evaluating emission reductions to offset growth in aviation pollution, but criteria could be worthless without full transparency and detailed rules to ensure only genuine additional effort is eligible

March 7, 2019
Raul Arce-Contreras, +1 (212) 616-1428, rcontreras@edf.org


The powerful International Civil Aviation Organization Council this week agreed on the criteria that will be used to evaluate emissions units and programs for ICAO’s Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation. The Council also approved terms of reference for a technical advisory board that will conduct the evaluations and make recommendations to the Council on program eligibility.  
Environmental Defense Fund welcomes the adoption of the criteria since they include – at least in principle – key elements needed to ensure that only credible emission reductions units can be used by airlines to offset their emissions. The Council’s pledges to issue an open invitation to emissions unit programs to apply for eligibility, publish program applications on ICAO’s website, and invite public comment on them, are positive steps.  
But yesterday’s announcement does not yet secure whether CORSIA will operate with integrity. The Council has placed great responsibility on the Technical Advisory Body to review offset program applications worth potentially billions of dollars. But this board’s membership is undisclosed to date, as are its conflict of interest procedures and operational guidelines. Most worrying is the possibility that the board’s recommendations would remain confidential – a near total departure from normal UN practice.
“Getting the criteria adopted, the application process posted on ICAO’s website, and the review board established are positive steps,” said Baroness Bryony Worthington, executive director of Environmental Defense Fund Europe. “But given the massive lack of transparency around ICAO generally and the board in particular, there is as of yet no guarantee that CORSIA overall will result in genuine carbon offsets and thereby make a meaningful contribution toward climate protection.”
The criteria agreed by the ICAO Council include language that precludes double counting – banning an emission reduction from being counted by both the airline and the country where the reduction took place. EDF welcomes the ban, but warns double counting can only be avoided with robust guidelines that include the necessary level of engagement and transparent accounting by the country in which the emission reductions underlying the offset take place.
The criteria do not include a restriction on dubious credits generated pre-2020 or leftover from the Kyoto Protocol. These crucial “vintage and timeframe” recommendations will be left for the board and for decision by the Council at a later meeting.
“It’s not in anyone’s interest to allow into CORSIA offsets that are double counted or lack climate benefit,” said Annie Petsonk, EDF international counsel. “The emission reductions used by airlines need to represent real climate action. If detailed rules restricting old vintages and requiring host party engagement and holistic accounting aren’t clearly laid out in public guidelines and adhered to, then an in-principle ban isn’t good enough. The ICAO Council must ensure ICAO implements a CORSIA that works,” Petsonk said.   

To learn more, visit edf.org/aviation

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