By Chris Lang
At its meeting this month, the governing council of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) approved two forest carbon offsetting schemes: the Verified Carbon Standard’s Jurisdictional and Nested REDD+ methodology; and the Architecture for REDD+ Transactions’ The REDD+ Environmental Excellency Standard.
REDD credits from these programmes can now be bought by airlines under the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA).
This is the climate nightmare that REDD-Monitor has been warning about for well over a decade. A very large, very polluting industry, with very little interest in reducing its emissions from burning fossil fuels is giving the impression of doing something about the climate crisis by buying carbon offsets.
The “carbon neutral” myth
Here’s how Conservation International describes the aviation industry’s plans for avoiding meaningful action on the climate crisis:
Under ICAO, countries have agreed to cap emissions from global aviation at 2000 levels, requiring airlines to use more efficient aircraft, better operational practices and alternative jet fuels. However, even with these improvements, a large emissions gap will remain before the sector can reach its goal of delivering “carbon neutral growth from 2020.”
But as this graph from ICAO clearly shows, CORSIA is a carbon trading scheme without a cap – under the scheme emissions continue to rise, and “carbon neutral growth” is to be achieved largely by buying carbon offsets:
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, CO2 emissions from aviation were increasing rapidly. A September 2019 report by the International Council on Clean Transportation found that in just five years up to 2018, emissions from commercial aviation had increased by almost one-third.
The science is clear
Conservation International’s Maggie Comstock provided “technical advice” to ICAO during the process of approving these two offsetting programmes. In a press release, she comments:
“The science is clear — the world cannot meet its climate goals without significantly scaling up the protection of nature. Carbon credits generated through the conservation and restoration of forests can provide high-quality emissions for airlines while protecting wildlife, keeping ecosystems intact and contributing to local livelihoods.
“This is a win for the industry and a win for nature.”
Comstock is right when she says that the science is clear. Unless we leave fossil fuels in the ground the climate crisis will get worse and worse. And the forests that generate carbon credits for the airline industry’s continued pollution are more and more likely to go up in smoke.
Comstock’s claim that REDD contributes to local livelihoods doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Conservation International runs the Alto Mayo REDD project in Peru and the organisation uses a photograph of the Alto Mayo forest to illustrate its press release: “Airline industry clears forest-carbon credits for takeoff”. Obviously Conservation International is hoping to profit from sales of carbon credits to the aviation industry.
But as a recent article in Bloomberg notes, the Alto Mayo REDD project has “inflamed a long-standing conflict between the government, which claims the land as a national park, and thousands of people who live there.”
Lauren Gifford at the University of Colorado, Boulder has carried out research in the project area since 2012. She points out that,
There’s been incredible conflict, almost since the beginning but it’s really ramped up more recently, between the local communities who live in and around the Alto Mayo, and the administrations who are applying the carbon offset management plan.
This is fortress conservation. Heavily armed police patrol the forest from a base set up in December 2019 inside the project area. There is violence on both sides. In 2018, the head of Conservation International’s Alto Mayo operation had to flee the area after receiving violent threats.
Approving two more offsetting schemes for inclusion in CORSIA is a win for the aviation industry. It’s also a win for big “conservation” organisations. But it’s a disaster for the climate. And the result could be massive human rights abuses, as fortress conservation is inflicted on Indigenous Peoples and local communities. All so that the rich can continue to fly.