Countdown to CORSIA

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Countdown to CORSIA

Airlines are rapidly approaching the 1 January 2019 start of reporting emissions under the CORSIA initiative, but is the industry ready? Emma Kelly takes a look.

Just a couple of months away, from 1 January 2019, operators will be required to monitor their fuel use and carbon dioxide emissions from all international flights under the aviation industry’s Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), as agreed at the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s (ICAO) assembly in 2016.

These reports will form part of a baseline of CO2 emissions for CORSIA, leading to airlines offsetting the growth in emissions, from 2020 levels, on routes between states which have volunteered to be part of CORSIA from 2021.

While its supporters claim much progress has been achieved towards CORSIA since 2016, considerable work still needs to be done to ensure it becomes reality, while the scheme’s critics question whether it will do much to improve the aviation industry’s environmental credentials at all.

Dr Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu, ICAO Council president, told delegates at the 2018 Air Transport Action Group (ATAG) Global Sustainable Aviation Summit, which took place in Geneva, Switzerland, in early October, that while much has been achieved with regards to CORSIA, “there is still a lot of work ahead of us”. Coincidentally, CORSIA has its roots in the Global Sustainable Aviation Summit as it was at the summit in 2008 where the industry first made a declaration on climate action and a plan of action, which led to CORSIA’s development.

CORSIA has been one of ICAO’s main priorities since the 2016 assembly, he notes, culminating in the adoption of the standards and recommended practices (SARPs) supported by the council in June. “We are seeing unprecedented mobilisation by governments and industry stakeholders to ensure that everyone will be fully prepared when the CORSIA SARPs become applicable next year,” says Dr Aliu.

“Time here is of the essence,” he says, pointing to the 1 January deadline, which requires emissions monitoring plans and national regulatory frameworks to be in place to support the programme.

In order to help a number of ICAO states that require “targeted assistance” to meet the deadline, ICAO launched in July the ACT-CORSIA programme, which provides struggling states with assistance, capacity-building and training. Buddy Partnerships under ACT-CORSIA involve donor states providing tailored assistance to those struggling with implementation requirements.

“As we speak, 15 such donor states are now assisting 90 recipient states throughout the world, ensuring that no country is left behind,” according to Dr Aliu. Meanwhile, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) is working with operators to ensure they are compliant through a series of regional workshops.

Despite these efforts, Dr Aliu warns there remains a lot of work, particularly involving CORSIA’s Implementation Elements. While progress has been made with two of these – the CORSIA CO2 Estimation and Reporting Tool (CERT) and the CORSIA Central Registry (CCR) framework – the Council needs to focus on four key areas ahead of next year’s ICAO assembly, says Dr Aliu.

Most notable of these is the Eligible Emissions Units, with the next council meeting to consider the results of the testing of the criteria and processes relevant to the evaluation of projects which generate carbon credits. The second area of focus is eligible fuels, including studying life-cycle emissions values, a robust verification framework and effective sustainability criteria, while the CORSIA Central Registry is due to be finalised by the end of this year, with development and testing planned for 2019 ahead of operations in 2020. The final implementation element to address is verification, with ICAO and the International Accreditation Forum currently finalising an agreement to ensure that verifiers will be ready to undertake CORSIA verification by early 2020 when operators’ emission reports will need to be submitted.

Michael Gill, executive director of ATAG, urges the ICAO Council to make progress on this work, especially finalise the work on emissions units to be used under CORSIA and the adoption of the remaining sustainability criteria for alternative fuels. “Both are vital parts of the overall picture that need early resolution so airlines and carbon markets can make the necessary preparations,” he says.

When it comes to airline operators, Gill says he is “generally very encouraged by the readiness of aircraft operators”. He adds: “There has been an outstanding response to training provided by IATA, working closely with ATAG and IBAC [International Business Aviation Council], and very positive engagement at a series of workshops held all around the world.” This year, nearly 500 people from 250 airlines have participated in the training sessions, according to ATAG, with more training available over the next couple of months.

Gill adds: “This is the first time any global system like this has been attempted and, despite lots of detailed questions arising, I am confident that the industry is on the right track to be ready to meet its obligations,” he adds.

Gill also urges all states to become part of the first stage of CORSIA, with some 73 states having committed to date.

Not everyone is convinced by the potential CORSIA offers, however, with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) questioning its environmental credentials and raising concerns of weaknesses and lack of transparency. The International Coalition for Sustainable Aviation (ICSA), for example, says while the majority of the CORSIA package is “technically sound”, there are several areas which need to be strengthened in order to achieve its environmental purpose.

ICSA, which is an official observer at ICAO, includes NGOs Aviation Environment Federation; Carbon Market Watch; Transport and Environment; and the International Council on Clean Transportation. In particular, ICSA has raised concerns that CORSIA’s proposed reporting is not sufficiently transparent, arguing that allowing third parties to access operators’ emissions reports would help ensure the programme’s environmental integrity. Only CORSIA eligible emissions units should be used for compliance with the programme, ICSA stresses. It also believes that ICAO should refrain from crediting aviation alternative fuels under CORSIA until the sustainable aviation fuels provisions in the CORISA package, particularly sustainability criteria, are strengthened.

Carbon Market Watch (CMW) says CORSIA will not be enough to address aviation’s “massive climate impact” due to its “weak climate goal and the objective of compensating emissions through offsets rather than actually reducing the emissions from planes”. CMW notes that aviation is the most carbon-intensive form of transport and its emissions are expected to grow by up to 300 percent by 2050. “We call for higher climate ambition across the industry with a focus on in-sector emission reductions, robust governance rules, increased transparency and public participation,” CMW says.

Transport and Environment (T&E) is concerned that CORSIA is voluntary from 2021-2027, will potentially only have a mandatory effect after 2027 and, at the most, will only offset 21.6 percent of international aviation emissions. It believes aiming to offset emissions above 2020 levels is “a pretty weak target” in the first place and the scheme will fall short of this target as it is voluntary.

It expresses concerns over its reliance on offsetting, noting that offsets can go “badly wrong, with promised emission reductions from offsetting projects amounting to nothing more than scraps of paper”. It points to a study of the United Nation’s Clean Development Mechanism, for example, which found that 85 percent of the offset projects involved failed to reduce emissions. “The low cost of offsets and weak ambition of CORSIA will provide no incentive for the aviation sector to drive efficiency improvements,” it argues, calling for other reductions including efficiency standards for aircraft and ending subsidies.

T&E believes CORSIA falls short in three areas – its lack of enforcement procedures; lack of safeguards ensuring effective offsets; and the sustainability rules surrounding alternative fuels.

T&E is concerned by watered down rules involving “clean oil”, with airlines able to claim fossil fuels as alternative fuels just because the refinery producing the oil was running on renewable electricity in a change pushed by Saudi Arabia and backed by the United States.

ICAO is prepared to water down environmental rules when it faces pressure from states or industry, it says. “CORSIA looks more and more like an awful deal for the climate,” according to Andrew Murphy, aviation manager at T&E.

Murphy says: “Aviation’s climate impact won’t be solved overnight and it won’t be solved by one actor. What’s needed is effective global measures matched with the greater regional and national ambition that the Paris agreement was designed to deliver.”

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