The Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection (CAEP) of the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) concluded its meeting to make recommendations on a number of measures to reduce CO2 emissions from international flights on Friday 12th February.
The main agreement of the meeting was for CO2 emissions reduction standards for new type and new in-production aircraft. While it is positive that the fuel efficiency of new aircraft design is to be regulated, the stringency is far below what was possible, as governments moved to shield their aircraft manufacturers. Continued pressure for a review of the new standards is needed to increase ambition and to try and ensure old designs are mothballed.
The weakness of the CO2 standard means that a second measure, the global market based measure (GMBM), under discussion in ICAO will need to deliver even more to achieve their goal of keeping the industry’s net emissions at 2020 levels, despite rapid growth in the sector.
The GMBM will allow airlines to buy offsets to cover their emissions from international flights. ICAO is currently discussing which credits will be eligible to be used, and CAEP approved high level principles to guide the decision. While these are important, the value of the GMBM will be in how they are implemented. For the GMBM to have environmental integrity, it is imperative that ICAO avoids allowing project types that fail to demonstrate and fulfill these principles. Project types including fossil fuel, large hydro and reducing emissions from forestry can cause significant environmental and social harms in practice. Without a safeguard against bad project types, there is a danger that the aviation industry could effectively subsidize the fossil fuel industry. The implementation of the criteria will be part of future work under ICAO.
Also important to the integrity of the GMBM will be what measures are put in place to avoid double counting of emissions reductions by the aviation industry and any other entity that might claim them. This will require registries of credits and a requirement that if a credit is bought by aviation that it is removed from the seller’s registry.
The UN Paris Agreement on climate decided that countries should pursue efforts to limit global warming to 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels. The quality of the credits eligible for use in the GMBM and the quality of accounting will define whether the GMBM is a valuable instrument to reduce emissions or aviation industry greenwash.