Agreement on sustainability criteria and advisory body for CORSIA carbon credits welcomed, although with reservations from NGOs
Although still to be confirmed, the ICAO Council is understood to have appointed 19 members to the Technical Advisory Body (TAB) that will evaluate and make recommendations to the Council on eligible programmes and units for the CORSIA carbon offsetting scheme for international aviation. The setting up of the TAB and its terms of reference were agreed at the Council’s 216th Session last week, which also approved the emissions unit criteria (EUC) that aim to ensure only credible emissions units, or carbon credits, can be used by airlines to offset their emissions (see article). The Council agreement on the EUC and the TAB has been welcomed by the aviation industry and the carbon markets as a “significant milestone” and “big step forward” in the development of CORSIA. While adding their welcome to the Council decisions, NGOs said the criteria still left the door open to dubious credits and expressed concerns over transparency.
The aviation industry said the Council had taken another key step towards CORSIA deployment and great progress had been made in the underlying technical work to determine which emissions units should be eligible for the scheme.
“It is important for the industry that strong sustainability standards are applied for the types of eligibility offsets. This will ensure that CORSIA is an effective climate measure which has always been a key priority for the industry,” said Michael Gill, Executive Director of the cross-sector Air Transport Action Group (ATAG).
“The decision by the ICAO Council on the sustainability criteria is fundamental in providing certainty to carbon markets as they develop projects ready to be supported by airlines ahead of the pilot phase of CORSIA in 2021.”
Dirk Forrister, CEO of the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA), agreed CORSIA had taken a big step forward but said more work was needed to bring the scheme into commercial operation. “We stand ready to provide further input into ICAO’s stakeholder engagement process and to ensure that it benefits from the experience and expertise of carbon market professionals as CORSIA kicks into gear.”
Added Robert Stevens, head of IETA’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 the TAB starts work as soon as possible.”
IETA welcomed inclusion in the criteria of provisions preventing the double counting of emissions reductions. “This is essential to build market confidence,” said Eva Weightman, IETA’s Aviation Policy Director. “Investors need to know they have clear title to reduction units, and that there can be no competing claims.”
In a paper published by IATA during the last UNFCCC COP meeting in December, the airline industry too has supported the approach taken by ICAO to address double-counting, in which an emission reduction is counted by both the airline and the country where the reduction took place.
US-based Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) welcomed the ban on double-counting but warned it 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 takes place.”
Added Annie Petsonk, International Counsel at EDF: “It’s not in anyone’s interest to allow into CORSIA offsets that are double counted or lack climate benefit. The emission reductions used by airlines need to represent real climate action.”
While the Council pledge to issue an open invitation to carbon reduction programmes to apply for eligibility, publish programmes on the ICAO website and invite public comment on them were positive steps, EDF said there were still doubts on whether CORSIA would operate with integrity. The membership of TAB was still undisclosed to date, as were its conflict of interest procedures and operational guidelines, it pointed out.
“Most worrying is the possibility that the board’s recommendations would remain confidential – a near total departure from normal UN practice,” said the NGO.
Baroness Bryony Worthington, Executive Director of EDF Europe, said: “Given the massive lack of transparency around ICAO generally and the board in particular, there is as of yet, no guarantee CORSIA overall will result in genuine carbon offsets and thereby make a meaningful contribution towards climate protection.”
In addition, pointed out EDF, the criteria do not include a restriction on dubious credits generated pre-2020, before the start date of CORSIA, or left over from the Kyoto Protocol. European countries have called for a vintage restriction on credits but this is expected to be left to the TAB to make recommendations, perhaps based on specific projects or programmes, and the Council to take a decision at a later stage.
“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,” said Petsonk. “The Council must ensure ICAO implements a CORSIA that works.”
Brussels-based Carbon Market Watch (CMW) said CORSIA needed not only robust credit quality criteria but also a vintage restriction of 2020 based on project start date.
Commented Policy Officer Gilles Dufrasne: “It’s a welcome step to have rules in place to ensure that credits purchased by airlines are environmentally and socially sustainable. However, unless the Council agrees on a cut-off date for what projects are allowed in, there is a risk that worthless, old credits flood the market, meaning that the scheme could have zero positive impact on climate.”
The NGO has just released an assessment of credit providers against one of the Council’s agreed CORSIA eligibility criteria, the Program Design Elements, a primary role of the TAB when operational. The programmes analysed are the UNFCCC’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), Verra, Gold Standard, Japan’s Joint Crediting Mechanism, Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, Climate Action Reserve and Plan Vivo.
The findings conclude that all programmes will need to adopt new protocols in order to be eligible to provide credits under CORSIA. “This is particularly true for criteria relating to safeguards, sustainable development and double-counting, which several programmes do not currently meet,” states CMW. “Some programmes, such as the CDM, meet the criteria on paper even though we know that in practice they are of very poor quality. This underlines the need for the TAB to carry out more detailed assessment of methodologies and projects.”
On avoiding double-counting, it says governments will be required to reach an agreement on the international carbon market rules, which they have so far failed to achieve. “While the main responsibility falls on countries, programmes will have to have procedures in place to verify that emission reductions have not been claimed somewhere else and, if necessary, to invalidate issued credits,” adds CMW.
It calls on ICAO to ensure the TAB works in a transparent manner, including by opening up its meetings to outside observers and making documentation about its work publicly available.
“As things stand, nothing is eligible under CORSIA, so countries need to get their act together and agree on accounting rules, and programmes need to plug the remaining holes in their protocols,” said Dufrasne. “The TAB’s task of assessing programme eligibility will be key to ensuring the effectiveness of this carbon market.”
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