Obscure aviation climate deal – ICAO’s CORSIA – could undermine the Paris Agreement
A new Columbia Law School report reveals major shortcomings in how the UN aviation agency (ICAO) interprets transparency and public participation requirements. The 36 member countries of ICAO met for closed talks in Montreal to discuss rules on its carbon offsetting scheme – known as CORSIA. Established in October 2016, the new carbon market is intended to compensate for the industry’s emissions growth above 2020 levels. But in addition tot he Columbia Law School report, new Carbon Market Watch analysis warns that a careful design of the rules is necessary to avoid undermining the goals of the Paris Agreement. The ICAO process needs to allow proper public scrutiny, to avoid being of low quality and trying to use illegitimate offsets. So far a lack of public scrutiny has allowed ICAO to develop climate policy in isolation, and this has serious and direct implications for the Paris Agreement. Unless there are clear rules for how CO2 reductions purchased by airline operators are accounted for, it is likely that there will be double counting of these cuts – risking the Paris goals. So far ICAO has kept the outcome of political meetings and important documents relating to the development of the CORSIA locked away from the public domain. By contrast, the IMP and UNFCCC generally provide engagement opportunities to the public.
Obscure aviation climate deal could undermine the Paris Agreement
BONN 14 November 2017
Climate Market Watch
A new Columbia Law School report reveals major shortcomings in how the UN aviation body (ICAO) interprets transparency and public participation requirements. The report’s findings come amidst a closed meeting in Montreal that kick-starts the approval of rules for ICAO’s new carbon offsetting scheme. A separate Carbon Market Watch analysis on the scheme’s impact on the Paris Agreement calls for an urgent overhaul of the ICAO decision making process in line with countries’ obligations and international common practice.
This week, the 36 member countries of the UN’s international aviation agency (ICAO) Council meet for closed talks in Montreal to discuss rules on its carbon offsetting scheme -known as CORSIA. Established in October 2016, the new carbon market is intended to compensate for the industry’s emissions growth above 2020 levels.
A new Carbon Market Watch analysis warns that a careful design of the rules is necessary to avoid undermining the goals of the Paris Agreement. This brief comes off the back of a new Columbia Law School report showing that unless the governance structure and transparency of ICAO’sdecision making process are significantly improved to allow public scrutiny, the aviation scheme risks poor quality and illegitimacy.
Eva Filzmoser, Executive Director at Carbon Market Watch said:
“A lack of public scrutiny has allowed ICAO to develop climate policy in isolation. The aviation offsetting scheme has serious and direct implications for the Paris Agreement, and if outstanding issues are to be resolved before CORSIA goes online, this clandestine practice must end.”
The aviation scheme will have a direct impact on countries’ compliance with the Paris climate targets. While climate talks currently underway in Bonn discuss accounting rules for emission reduction transfers between countries, it is unclear how emission reductions purchased by airline operators are booked to avoid double counting of reductions towards ICAO and the Paris goals.
Obligations under the Aarhus Convention and common transparency practices
While in principle, the ICAO general rules of procedure promote public participation, the Carbon Market Watch analysis finds that these rules have so far been interpreted in a thoroughly narrow fashion by keeping the outcome of political meetings and important documents relating to the development of the CORSIA locked away from the public domain.
The Aarhus Convention obliges its signatories to grant the public rights of access to information, participation in decision making process and access to justice on environmental issues. The secret decision making under which the rules for CORSIA are developed conflicts with signatories’ obligations to share information on the negotiations. ICAO’s practice is also in stark contrast with many other UN policy fora, such as the maritime body (IMO) or climate body (UNFCCC), that generally provide engagement opportunities to the public.
Aoife O’Leary, author of the study said:
“The ICAO rules of procedure allow for access to information and public meetings but inexplicably these rules have not been followed in the decision making process around the sector’s offsetting scheme. And this despite the obligations the Aarhus Convention places on many of the ICAO member and observer countries, meaning the signatories have so far been complicit in keeping the development of the CORSIA in the dark, away from public scrutiny.”
Parliamentarians in Italy and Sweden  have already asked their governments for more information on the CORSIA. At the EU level, a number of Members of the European Parliament  have asked the European Commission to release documentation as the CORSIA will impact on the EU’s climate targets for 2030.
Seb Dance, Member of the European Parliament (S&D) said:
“The carbon reduction scheme put forward by the International Civil Aviation Organisation in principle deserves our full support, yet serious questions remain over its governance and its effectiveness. The European Parliament has consistently called for full transparency of information and public deliberations on the carbon reduction scheme to allow all actors involved to judge its effectiveness.”
As the ICAO Council concludes their meeting to agree on draft rules for the new scheme, Carbon Market Watch calls upon those ICAO Parties that are also Party to the Aarhus Convention to adhere to their transparency obligations and disclose all details of the CORSIA negotiations to provide opportunity for public debate ahead of their adoption in June 2018.
Kelsey Perlman, Aviation Policy Officer at Carbon Market Watch said:
“Aviation’s measure risks blowing a giant hole in the Paris Agreement. The irony is that delegates in Bonn and Montreal are currently negotiating interlinked climate issues, with one held in public and the other behind closed doors. ICAO needs to allow for more public scrutiny, but the truth is we can’t afford to keep waiting to see how this measure affects global climate ambition. The European countries that have defended transparency this week in Bonn while sitting in the dark in ICAO, need to open up the debate.”
Carbon Market Watch recommendations for COP23 – CORSIA for aviation needs better transparency and clarity
“Carbon Market Watch” has made recommendations for COP23 (the UN global climate talks in Bonn). They say on aviation: “Don’t let aviation undermine the Paris Agreement. In writing the Paris rulebook, it is essential to address the role of aviation and shipping, two sectors projected to take up to 40% of the carbon budget by 2050. This includes assessing both sectors’ ambition towards Paris goals in the Facilitative Dialogue and Global Stocktake and compatibility with the Paris Agreement on the Transparency Framework and accounting rules. The CORSIA is clearly not along term solution for aviation emissions in a world where all sectors must quickly reduce their own emissions. Without transparent, compatible rules, the CORSIA could end up increasing the overall emissions in the Paris Agreement by an equivalent of those from 817 coal fired power plants in a year.” And they say aviation and shipping should be integrated into the preparation and review of mitigation action of states. There should be formalised cooperation between ICAO and the UNFCCC on avoiding double counting, and information on offsets going to CORSIA participants in reports and updates under the Transparency Framework. Information on ICAO and IMO activities should be included in the global stocktake.