Fri 26 May 2017 – With barely 18 months before all countries with aircraft operators undertaking international flights are required to start monitoring carbon emissions, ICAO faces a major challenge in finalising the important standards that will underpin its global CORSIA carbon offsetting scheme. While 69 Member States have so far agreed to participate from the beginning of the pilot phase in 2021, many more will be affected by the monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) requirements of the scheme. However, the ICAO leadership is confident that the draft standards are on course to be formally adopted in a year’s time, although concedes additional resources will be needed for the development and implementation of the scheme. The UN agency’s environment chief, Jane Hupe, told a recent seminar in Montreal that CORSIA should not be seen as a ‘carte blanche’ which allowed the sector to increase its emissions unchecked and the aim was to do everything possible to reduce aviation’s climate impact.
ICAO has just completed a series of five regional seminars to inform its Member States on the details and progress of CORSIA, with a total of 431 participants from 92 States that collectively account for 94.8% of total international air traffic (RTKs).
“The objective of these seminars was to ensure the successful and timely implementation of CORSIA by States,” Hupe told GreenAir. “The seminars shared information on CORSIA’s design elements and provided an opportunity for States to share their existing readiness to implement the scheme. They provided momentum behind a desire to learn more about the details of CORSIA and what is required for implementation.
“This is a great sign for two reasons: firstly, there is a growing interest in CORSIA and with that we anticipate a growth in participation in the pilot and first phase, and, secondly, the level of understanding from the States has increased to a point where they are starting to ask more in-depth questions.”
The series concluded with the Montreal seminar that discussed the outcome as well as the lessons learned from the regional events, one of the most important being the need by States for assistance and resources – so-called capacity-building. Whereas mandatory reporting by US airlines to their government on jet fuel consumption has been in place for decades and airlines operating in Europe have been subject to MRV provisions under the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) for over five years, this is new territory for many States and their aircraft operators. Even those States that are not participating in the voluntary phase of CORSIA will have to set up a carbon emissions monitoring and reporting system.
“Continuing to bridge the gap in the level of understanding will remain a primary focus of the ICAO Secretariat,” said Hupe.
For ICAO itself, developing and implementing the scheme on time is proving a major challenge. “Our initial assessment has indicated that we will need additional resources to complete the development and implementation of CORSIA, as this is above and beyond what we have done in the past,” said ICAO Council President Dr Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu in an interview on the sidelines of the Montreal seminar. “CORSIA is the first global market-based measure (MBM) scheme for any industry sector so, yes, this is outside our historical experience.
“That said, ICAO is very well positioned to undertake this role as it is not only working closely with its Member States, but also coordinating with expert groups made up of industry, NGOs and other UN organisations. This collaboration is key to the success of CORSIA.”
Dr Aliu said States had been petitioned to provide additional support to meet the demands of developing and implementing the scheme, and ICAO was encouraging States to build CORSIA partnerships and cooperate on implementation. “We are also working very closely with and receiving expertise support from the UNFCCC Secretariat, as well as exploring partnerships with other international organisations and States,” he added.
During a meeting held at the recent UNFCCC climate talks in Bonn, Ellysar Baroudy of the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) said in a presentation the organisation was in talks with ICAO over the use REDD+ forestry credits of offset emissions under CORSIA. The FCPF assists developing countries in their efforts to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.
“The growing commitment of our partners to support the ICAO capacity building and assistance efforts demonstrates how critical these activities are to the achievement of ICAO’s aspirational climate goals,” said Dr Aliu. “Adequate financial resources within the international aviation sector itself are paramount to the realisation of the goals.”
Work has already begun to provide States with some of the necessary tools to assist them with CORSIA implementation. Set up following the ICAO Assembly in 2010, Member States were encouraged to submit State Action Plans that identified the appropriate measures to reduce CO2 emissions from international aviation in line with the ICAO aspirational goals. The number of States that have since submitted plans is now 103, representing more than 90% of international RTKs.
“Action plans provide the big picture,” explained Hupe. “Many States have been working to update their plans with a more robust quantification of the expected emissions reduction from the selected mitigation measures. There is a clear synergy between action plans and CORSIA. For example, plans containing a robust data collection, monitoring and reporting mechanism provide a good basis from which CORSIA MRV can be derived. They can also reflect the results of CO2 emissions offsetting under CORSIA by participating States.”
The CORSIA resolution adopted by the ICAO Assembly last October calls for the technical framework of the scheme – the Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) – to be adopted by the governing Council in 2018 and for implementation by Member States from 2019. Under the guidance of ICAO’s Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection (CAEP), an expert task force (GMTF) is working on technical recommendations concerning MRV requirements and processes, which will serve as the basis for draft SARPs. These will be reviewed and approved by CAEP before they are passed to the Council for its review, which is expected to begin later this year, before consultation with States.
Work also continues at ICAO to determine the eligibility of emissions units, or carbon credits, for use by aircraft operators to meet offsetting requirements under CORSIA. This is an area of much speculation, which Hupe is keen to dampen. “This is work in progress for which more time is needed before a decision is made,” she said.
Gabon and El Salvador are the latest countries electing to participate in CORSIA from the beginning – two countries that would be entitled under the de minimis rules to be exempted from the entire duration of the scheme. Joining them is Saudi Arabia, a long-standing opponent of aviation CO2 market-based measures. Hupe says the move followed the country’s active participation at the Middle East regional CORSIA seminar in Cairo in April.
This brings the number of States intending to join the pilot and voluntary phases from 2021 to 69 and ICAO is expecting more to take part from the beginning.
“The provision of capacity building and assistance will encourage more ICAO Member States to join the scheme. I am very pleased with the progress being made and look forward to more States volunteering in the future,” said an optimistic Dr Aliu, who has no doubts that all the countries which have already pledged to participate, including China and the United States, will take part from the beginning and others will follow as the SARPs are finalised.
“Through the recent CORSIA seminars and other capacity building materials, I believe States will have a better view of the functioning, the implications and the benefits of participating in CORSIA and opt to volunteer for participation in the pilot and first phases.”
Two important international aviation nations, India and Russia, continue to oppose joining the voluntary phases although their Council representatives attended the Montreal seminar and made interventions. Russia has consistently argued against the application of MBMs to international aviation on the grounds they take away finance that could be used to improve efficiencies and safety, and has doubts about the ICAO aspirational carbon-neutral growth goal. India’s worry is that CORSIA could adversely impact the country’s growing aviation market and has some concerns over the technical aspects of implementation. However, it has not entirely ruled out participation from the first phases and it is understood certain Indian airlines are encouraging their country to join.
Although the 69 countries that are now signed up represent 87.6% of international RTKs, this still leaves well over 100 States that have not volunteered and Hupe said efforts would continue to encourage them to join and, if they haven’t already done so, submit Action Plans.
“When we have the draft SARPs ready we will reach out to these States that have not yet engaged in the CORSIA process,” said Hupe.
In conjunction with carbon market trade body International Emissions Trading Association (IETA), the aviation industry too embarked on a regional series of workshops recently to help airlines understand the workings of CORSIA.
Michael Gill, IATA’s Director of Aviation Environment, told the Montreal seminar there was now a higher level of understanding about CORSIA that had been broadened to a wider group of stakeholders. “We have found a strong need for more capacity building but also a desire and commitment from everyone to see CORSIA successfully implemented,” he said. “IATA and the other regional airline and business aviation associations will continue to support the process and work together to upscale the understanding of their members so they are ready for implementation.
“The key aspects for an aircraft operator are having the right resources in place and knowing in advance what is required to comply with CORSIA. We are also looking for as much preliminary information from ICAO as is possible, and as early as possible, while recognising that the Council has the final word in approving the SARPs.
“It is also important to recognise that CORSIA, which has been conceived as gap filler, is just one of the basket of measures [to reduce aviation CO2 emissions] and everyone in the sector needs to continue driving ahead with work on the other measures.”
On the sidelines of the seminar, Nancy Young, VP Environment at Airlines for America (A4A), told GreenAir there was still more work to be done behind the scenes by the CAEP GMTF and gaps to be filled but the draft SARPs were well in hand. “When people can see those, which we hope will be in the next couple of months, CORSIA is going to become a lot more real and operators can really begin to prepare,” she said. “There is a question about when the Council can release this information but there are discussions over whether some guidance material can be issued before the formal SARPs are published in the middle of 2018. This would help States and operators advance their preparations.”
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