UN Promises: No Double-Counting on Aviation Offsets, but No Transparency, Either

Declan Foraise

The Paris Climate Agreement covers greenhouse-gas emissions from countries, but emissions from flights between countries are a different matter. They’re covered under the notoriously opaque International Civil Aviation Organization.

8 March 2019 | The Paris Climate Agreement covered greenhouse gasses emitted by countries, but it left emissions from international flights and shipping in limbo – partly because their “international” nature made it hard to reach agreement on which countries to charge the emissions to.

That changed for one of those sectors in 2016, when the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which is the UN agency charged with coordinating aviation regulation, agreed to freeze net aviation emissions at 2020 levels beginning in 2021, and to force airlines to offset emissions above that threshold.

The big question since has been which kind of offsets will be recognized under the offsetting mechanism, called “CORSIA” (Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation), and how they will be accounted for.

This week, ICAO’s Governing Council partially answered the accounting question, when it announced that offsets used to reduce a country’s emissions can’t also be used to reduce emissions from international flights – a basic component of carbon accounting.

Still unclear, however, is which offsets will be recognized, and for that the Council this week established a Technical Advisory Body (TAB) and invited project developers to begin submitting applications. What it didn’t do was explain who will sit on this board, how they are elected, or whether their recommendations would even be made public.

“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,” said Bryony Worthington, who runs the Environmental Defense Fund’s European operations.

“Time is of the essence,” said Robert Stevens, who runs the International Emissions Trading Association’s Aviation Task Force. “Generating emissions reductions often takes years — from the start of construction of a project through to the first issuance of carbon credits — so it’s important that the TAB starts work as soon as possible.”

Declan Foraise is a retired forester who primarily covers land use issues in Europe and Latin America.

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