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Global emissions scheme on track despite China saying it is unfair

Aviation’s perceived inadequate response to reducing emissions from flying was the target of huge demonstrations in the lead up the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) 40th triennial Assembly, held in Montreal at the turn of the month. But heated debates were not confined to anti-flying protestors. Inside the Assembly, several influential delegates became hot under the collar when the subject of the industry’s Carbon Offset and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) came up for debate. Associate editor and chief correspondent, Tom Ballantyne, reports.

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October 11th 2019

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At press time, delegates from 193 member states and more than 2,000 high-ranking government officials, aviation lobbyists and climate change NGOs who had attended the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s (ICAO) Assembly were absorbing the impact of a focused attack on the Carbon Offset and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) from a China led faction. Read More »

On the final day of the Assembly, following an earlier suspension of the program after an estimated 400,000 protestors, led by teenage activist, Greta Thunberg, descended on the gathering to demand greater climate mitigation from flying, a trio of delegates from China, India and Russia called for a secret ballot on the structure of CORSIA.

The delegates, whose main spokesman was first secretary for China, Guo Xiaofeng, repeated an historic objection to CORSIA. Guo said first world economies benefitted from the scheme to the detriment of emerging economies, including China.

The vote was 92-25 in favour of the pursuance of CORSIA, with 10 abstentions. China, India and Russia, with the backing of some other states, informed ICAO of their CORSIA concerns and called for a High Level meeting to discuss a revised agreement at the next Assembly, in 2021. Not all states, including the U.S., supported the request, reported GreenAir Online earlier this month. Russia and Brazil backed China and also advocated a High Level meeting in 2021.

“As the largest developing country, China supports efforts to address international aviation’s impact on the environment and climate change,” Guo said. “China is taking pro-active action to effectively control the growth of its aviation emissions.”

But [nation] States should be able to choose their own mid-term and long-term goals and the implementation path that is best for the circumstances of these States, the dissenting countries said.

“We maintain the goal of carbon neutral growth from 2020 only focuses on controlling the growth of emissions while neglecting the historic responsibilities of developed countries for emissions and the legitimate rights to expansion of developing countries and emerging economies.

“This goes against the notion of justice and fairness advocated by the international community and undermines mutual trust and cooperation among Member States,” said Guo.

To complicate the situation, several European States are maintaining the right to apply their own Emissions Trading Scheme on airlines, creating a dual system of market-based measures once CORSIA takes effect in 2021.

'China advocates for the establishment of an international aviation emissions reduction scheme that allows each country to make contributions to the best of its ability … and that is fair and just as well as conducive to mutual learning'
Guo Xiaofeng
China’s first secretary to ICAO, at the 40th International Civil Aviation Organisation’s triennial Assembly October 2019

At the conclusion of the Montreal gathering, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said the 40th Assembly produced two critical outcomes for aviation and the environment.

• The ICAO council will report to the next Assembly on options for the adoption of a long-term aspirational goal for reducing emissions from international aviation.

• The Assembly passed a resolution that reaffirmed and strengthened its support for the successful implementation of CORSIA, the world’s first carbon offsetting scheme.

IATA said for people witnessing the discussions at the Assembly “it could be construed ICAO had taken a back step in the world at a moment when the pressures on airlines to move forward in resolving the climate change issue as quickly as possible are intense,’’ it said.

“We will continue to support ICAO, but sadly we are going to have to move faster than ICAO is able to take whatever steps we can in finding ways to continue to reduce our environment footprint,” said IATA director general and CEO, Alexandre de Juniac.

The International Council for Clean Transportation (ICCT) has reported emissions from commercial aviation are rising 70% faster than ICAO predicted in its latest long-term forecast. ICCT’s survey indicated a tripling of emissions by 2050, in a study the group said was the first of its kind for 15 years.

CORSIA requires airlines worldwide, under a voluntary structure, to buy carbon credits from approved environment businesses if their emissions exceed specific targets. Global aviation has committed to carbon neutral growth from next year and a 50% reduction in airline CO₂ products against 2005 by mid-century.

A critic of aviation’s response to its emissions output, the European Federation of Transport and Environment, told Reuters the ICAO meeting had failed to take any significant steps to rein in the sector’s emissions after 11 days of talks and debate.

Eighty one countries have agreed to join CORSIA’s pilot phase by the 2021 deadline. Mandatory status will apply from 2027.

Before the Montreal assembly, IATA’s de Juniac said the success of CORSIA was in danger “because several states are implementing so-called green taxes, measures and levies on travelers”.

He pointed out ICAO member states had agreed to implement CORSIA three years ago. “The whole aviation industry welcomed this significant commitment as part of the overall approach to meaningfully mitigate the industry’s climate change impact. Today, CORSIA is a reality with airlines tracking their emissions,” he said.

“Unfortunately, there is a real risk CORSIA will be undermined by governments piling on additional carbon pricing instruments. They are branded ‘green taxes’, but we have yet to see any funds allocated to actually reducing carbon.

“CORSIA was agreed as the single global economic measure to achieve carbon neutral growth by generating $40 billion in climate funding and offsetting around 2.5 billion tonnes of CO₂ between 2021 and 2035. Governments need to focus on making that commitment a success.”

In his opening remarks at the Assembly, ICAO Council president, Dr Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu, said it was important to remember CORSIA was adopted after very difficult negotiations and also to avoid a cumbersome patchwork of national measures for operators such as taxes that can impede global connectivity.

“Therefore, it would be counterproductive to aviation and climate change progress if we fail at this Assembly to assure CORSIA’s continuing launch as a truly global offsetting scheme for international flight emissions,” he said.

Consolidating CORSIA is a critical goal for aviation. The industry is forecast to be flying 8.2 billion passengers a year in 2037. The industry’s lobby groups have pressed nations to join the greenhouse gas reduction scheme in the hope of weakening calls to curb flying.

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