The European Commission is racing its own “stop the clock” countdown on international aviation carbon emissions. The European Union emissions trading scheme (ETS), which the EC suspended in 2012 to allow the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) time to secure consensus on a global agreement, will automatically resume on January 1, 2017, absent any further action before then.
ICAO’s 191 nations reached an agreement in October at their triennial Assembly on a Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), which conflicts with the ETS cap-and-trade system, currently applied to intra-European flights. Schedules call for the ICAO CORSIA to take effect worldwide in 2021 on a voluntary basis, becoming mandatory for most airlines in 2027.
“If we were to allow the ETS to revert to full scope to cover third-country flights, there would be a risk that we would destabilize those ongoing [ICAO] talks,” said Peter Vis, a senior advisor in charge of transport decarbonization at the European Commission. “We have to act very quickly to prevent the full scope of [ETS] from reverting inadvertently.”
Meanwhile, the International Air Transport Association has cautioned against the European Parliament “double counting” now that CORSIA is in place. IATA senior vice president for member and external relations Paul Steele explained that ICAO members specifically designed CORSIA to “avoid a potential patchwork of different measures being introduced by a variety of states trying to address climate change.”
Steele said the airline association would rather have seen a mandatory scheme from the beginning. “But the political process decided it would be voluntary for the first six years,” he explained. EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc has also expressed disappointment at the initial voluntary phase for CORSIA.
A study by CE Delft, an independent research consultancy in The Netherlands, showed that despite annual aircraft efficiency gains of 1.5 percent, aviation liquid fossil fuel demand in Europe will rise consistently from 357 million barrels of oil in 2010 to 421 million in 2030.
As technical committees work through the CORSIA details, expected to be ready by 2018 for implementation in 2020, IATA’s Steele expressed concern that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) will try to use the ICAO emissions unit definition process as a way to solve broader issues they’ve encountered in climate negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC). An emission unit equals one ton of carbon dioxide. “I don’t think ICAO is the appropriate forum to do that, but they are trying very hard,” said Steele. “ICAO is an aviation body, not a climate change body, and ICAO doesn’t have the expertise to be able to delve into the finer points of emissions units.”
According to Steele, IATA wants a broad enough range of carbon credits types available to ensure “a proper market.”
“At the same time, we are also very cognizant that those credits have to be quality, to make sure it really is taking carbon out of the atmosphere,” he insisted. Steele said IATA is developing tools that would allow airlines to pool the purchasing of carbon credits.