Fri 30 Nov 2018 – With just a month to go before airlines and business aircraft operators with international flights must start monitoring and reporting their CO2 emissions under the CORSIA carbon offsetting scheme, the sector says it is firmly on track to meet its commitments. “We’re really encouraged by the readiness of the operators and there has been an outstanding response to the capacity-building efforts the industry has put in place, with positive engagement from both airlines and governments,” Michael Gill, Executive Director of the industry coalition Air Transport Action Group (ATAG), told the recent Aviation Carbon 2018 conference in London. He and other industry leaders called for early resolution of outstanding issues at ICAO on criteria around emissions units and alternative fuels. They also expressed concerns over a potential global patchwork of overlapping or contradictory measures and regimes.
The Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) commits the sector to carbon-neutral growth from 2020, and the initial monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) process starting on January 1 aims to establish an emissions baseline over the 2019-20 period. MRV rules were published as Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) by ICAO in June, and the industry has had to move quickly to prepare aircraft operators for their implementation.
Gill said ATAG had been working with IATA, IBAC (representing business aircraft operators) and regional airline associations on a series of workshops held around the world. He reported over 640 delegates had attended one or more workshops, with nearly 250 aircraft operators and 42 governments represented. Through its website, IATA has also published a detailed CORSIA handbook for airlines and made available sample emissions reporting plans. It is also currently holding webinars for other operators that have not attended a workshop.
“This is the first time a global scheme like this has been put into place so, of course, there are detailed questions arising in the course of the work we have done with the airlines but I really do believe the industry is on track to meet the 1st of January deadline,” he said.
IATA has also developed the FRED+ tool that is specifically tailored to aiding operators, governments and designated verifiers with the CORSIA MRV rules.
Gill said work at ICAO on establishing emissions units, or offsets, eligible for use by airlines under CORSIA and the adoption of the remaining sustainability criteria for alternative fuels that can be used by airlines against their offsetting obligations were key areas that needed decisions.
“We are continuing to urge progress in the ICAO Council – they are both crucial parts of the overall picture,” he said. “We need early resolution so that airlines and the carbon markets can make the necessary preparations.”
However, he said, ICAO had come a long way with CORSIA since its adoption by the ICAO Assembly two years ago. “The processes can be very cumbersome and lengthy, so what it has achieved is pretty remarkable. We should all recognise the extremely positive work that has taken place at ICAO and the speed at which they have managed to move through this not entirely simple process.”
Gill said the industry would have preferred a universal scheme that had applied to all countries from the start in 2021. “Of course, the initial six-year voluntary phases goes against this but we understand the political process in ICAO. We do see a positive landscape, with 75 States who have now volunteered for the initial phases of CORSIA and we are continuing to encourage all States to step up and show climate leadership by volunteering.
“As far as MRV implementation is concerned, we should congratulate States like Canada, India, Vietnam, Turkey, Kuwait, Mexico and others who have already passed or drafted the necessary legislation. We notice other States such as South Africa and China are close to finalising their regulations.
“Many of the 75 volunteers are developing countries and we thank ICAO and those developed countries contributing to the ACT initiative for helping them get ready for CORSIA.”
Andrew Herdman, Director General of the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines, said the political and geographic diversity of Asia, with around 40 different jurisdictions, made CORSIA MRV implementation in the region challenging, particularly for smaller countries.
“It came as a surprise to a number of States that they didn’t have a choice about CORSIA,” he told delegates. “There was so much talk initially about the voluntary phases and whether States were in or out but they didn’t understand that the reporting was for everyone. The industry is fully committed though and I am confident reporting will be put in place.”
The initial MRV phase to establish a baseline is just about reporting fuel and emissions in a comprehensive way but it will require more comprehensive legislation when offsetting obligations come later, he said.
“Now there is a big question about the countries not on the voluntary list,” he added. “In our part of the world, some big developing States with large and rapidly growing aviation sectors – notably China and India – have so far not volunteered. I think China has an open mind about it and India has expressed concerns about the extent to which CORSIA will impede the growth of aviation.
“This is something of a concern. We see the industry continuing to grow in a sustainable way and CORSIA is one of the key pillars of our climate strategy. The scheme has been structured to allow for the growth of the industry and it ensures that at least during the first nine years, when the calculation of offset obligations is on a sectoral basis, there is no discrimination in terms of individual growth rates by country or by operator. So the scheme is carefully designed to share the burden equally across the industry and not be biased against faster-growing regions.”
Gill added that Chinese airlines were well prepared to implement the necessary monitoring and reporting processes and wanted to contribute to the successful implementation of CORSIA.
“Although China itself hasn’t fully decided and is continuing to watch the discussions, I wouldn’t bet against them making a decision to join in the next couple of years before CORSIA kicks in. There’s a lot of politics in play here that go beyond CORSIA. It’s certainly not something we’ve given up on and we’ll continue the dialogue as we move ahead.”
Nancy Young, Vice President Environment at Airlines for America, said MRV legislation or regulation was not yet in place in the United States. “It isn’t possible to have it ready in time,” she said. “Our regulatory process takes at least a year, even two years. So our industry is working with government to implement the SARPs as seamlessly as possible under a special set of agreements before January 2019.”
The situation closer to home was more worrying, said Gill. “There is still a lack of clarity in the EU on how the CORSIA MRV rules are supposed to be implemented. Even more worrying from my perspective is to see the European Parliament calling on EU Member States not to fully implement CORSIA and, indeed, file differences to the agreement reached in ICAO. It’s really quite disappointing that having had leading EU experts contribute so positively and so successfully to the drafting of the CORSIA rules, we’re now seeing the EU on a wider level dragging its heels. This is an area where we really need to see the EU continuing to lead by example.”
He said one of the main drivers behind industry support for CORSIA was to avoid the so-called patchwork of overlapping or contradictory regulatory regimes. “Just remember, the 2016 ICAO Assembly resolution specifically provided that States committed CORSIA would be the sole measure applicable to emissions from international aviation. There have been no reservations at ICAO to that specific provision and I do think States need to continue to honour that commitment in the year up the next Assembly in 2019 and, indeed, well beyond.”
Young said the United States remained committed to CORSIA. “Our support for it is based on that flying internationally requires a single global measure and to avoid a patchwork. Some of you will recall my organisation’s opposition to the extra-territorial application of the EU’s Emissions Trading System. You will also recall the US government – including at the time Secretary of State Clinton and President Obama – also opposing this and signed legislation to that effect.
“But a key part of that legislation also said the US should work towards a global agreement to address GHG emissions from aviation. Some said we wouldn’t take this seriously but we meant it and remain committed to that. I am proud that we are implementing the positive rather than the negative part of that legislation.”
Herdman also expressed a fear over national differences emerging at ICAO over emissions unit eligibility. “When we eventually get to the stage of buying carbon offsets, there are some fundamental principles involved of making sure airlines have access to a wide range of offsets and that all airlines have access to the same types of offsets and at the same price points, or we’ll get distortions. We are concerned that in the process of establishing emissions unit criteria (EUC), there is a danger we won’t get a harmonised and uniform approach.”
Added Gill: “We have to avoid a patchwork of how EUC is implemented and how MRV is adopted. Anything that disintegrates the uniform application of CORSIA is a concern to us as it creates competitive distortions, different standards and varying levels of robustness.”
Summing up the panel session, Young said: “We as industry just urge States to keep working towards implementation in positive ways and not make industry the pawns in that process.”
Gill said a further series of industry workshops were planned in 2019 focusing on emissions reporting and verification, with further workshops in 2020 covering emissions units and carbon markets.
Editor’s note: Further reporting on the Aviation Carbon 2018 conference, co-organised by GreenAir, will follow.
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