By Chris Lang
In March 2020, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) selected six approved programmes to sell carbon offsets to the aviation industry under the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA).
ICAO set up a Technical Advisory Body to assess 14 organisations that had applied for their carbon offsets to be eligible under CORSIA.
Predictably enough, the Technical Advisory Body was loaded with carbon trading proponents. The Technical Advisory Body was supposed to asses the applications against the CORSIA Emissions Unit Eligibility Criteria adopted by the ICAO Council in 2019.
In October 2019, Öko-Institut, Perspectives Climate Group and the Stockholm Environment Institute produced an independent analysis of the applications for the German environment ministry. The analysis found that none of the 14 applications comply with the CORSIA Eligibility Criteria.
Nevertheless, the Technical Advisory Body’s report on the applications to be included in CORSIA recommended six programmes for “immediate eligibility”:
- American Carbon Registry
- China GHG Voluntary Emission Reduction Program
- Clean Development Mechanism
- Climate Action Reserve
- The Gold Standard
- Verified Carbon Standard Program
About the only good thing that could be said about ICAO’s decision in March 2020 is that it rejected more than half of the applications.
But even that would be an exaggeration.
ICAO does not disqualify applications that fail to meet its Emissions Units Criteria. Even the rejected organisations can re-apply. ICAO launched its next call for applications at the end of March 2020.
ICAO did exclude carbon offsets that were generated from projects that started before 1 January 2016. Offsets from projects that started on or after that date can be used during the pilot phase of CORSIA, from 2021 to 2023.
The Technical Advisory Group recommended two programmes for “conditional eligibility”:
- The Forest Carbon Partnership Facility
- The Global Carbon Council
And it invited two programmes to re-apply:
- British Columbia Offset Program
- Thailand Voluntary Emission Reduction Program
The Technical Advisory Group was not able to assess the following four programmes:
- The State Forest of the Republic of Poland
“We applaud the ICAO Council for listening to its experts and focusing on science in its decision to adopt environmental provisions in its market-based system to reduce climate pollution from airlines. At a time of extreme stress for the industry, aviation has stood by its commitment to grapple with the climate crisis even as it deals with the immediate tragedy of Covid-19. That is a demonstration of real leadership.”
Obviously Petsonk is oblivious to the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, not just shuffle them around the planet as the climate crisis gets worse and worse.
Writing on Carbon Pulse, Carbon Market Watch’s Gilles Dufrasne argues that “Due to the many problems associated with this scheme, no CDM credits should be used under the Paris Agreement and all projects should be re-assessed before they are transitioned into a new system.”
Dufrasne points out that the CDM failed on six of ICAO’s eligibility criteria, more than any of the other applications. He explained another problem to journalist Jocelyn Timperley,
“If you can buy CDM credits for 25 cents, then basically there’s no point in setting up another better system because nobody’s going to buy those credits.”
Dufrasne is correct to argue against the inclusion of CDM offsets in ICAO’s carbon trading mechanism. But he should have gone further. All offsets should be excluded, because CORSIA is nothing more than a mechanism for allowing the aviation industry to continue expanding and to continue polluting.
CORSIA’s weakness as a way of addressing the aviation industry’s contribution to the climate crisis is exposed by its definition of “permanence”. CORSIA requires that projects guarantee that carbon is stored only until 2037.
Putting aside the impossibility of predicting what will happen 17 years in the future, and guaranteeing (for example) that an area of forest will still be standing in 2037, this is far too short a period to define “permanence”.
According to the conventions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change a CO2 molecule remains in the atmosphere for 100 years (i.e. it has a “radiative forcing” effect for a period of 100 years). Under this convention, carbon offsets have to store carbon safely for 100 years.
But as Alain Karsenty, a researcher at the Centre for International Cooperation in Agricultural Research for Development (CIRAD), writes about IPCC’s 100 year period:
This is more a necessary convention for comparison with other greenhouse gases than atmospheric chemistry data, since a fraction of the CO2 remains in the atmosphere for a very long time.
[ . . . ]
In fact, a complete neutralisation of emissions would require almost perpetual storage. But who can provide such a guarantee?
CORSIA’s coronavirus fudge
Under the CORSIA system, airlines are supposed to buy offsets for emissions above a baseline set by the average of the aviation industry’s emissions in 2019 and 2020. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, global air travel has fallen dramatically. As a result, the baseline is far lower than predicted, and airlines will have to buy far more offsets than anticipated.
The International Air Transport Association is lobbying ICAO to change the rules. In a note to members, dated 31 March 2020, IATA wrote:
IATA is calling on ICAO to adjust the baseline for CORSIA and use 2019 emissions only for its determination. As the current provisions call for 2020 emissions tobe used in determining the baseline for CORSIA, the reduction in traffic will significantly lower the baseline, resulting in significantly higher offsetting requirements and costs for operators.
John Sauven, Greenpeace UK’s executive director told the Guardian that,
“At the same time as they’re asking for huge government bailouts, airlines are also lobbying furiously to dodge their obligations towards cutting carbon emissions.
“Offsetting schemes have always been big polluters’ favourite excuse to carry on polluting while shifting responsibility for their emissions to someone else. The industry’s current proposal would only make the buck-passing easier.”