The ink is barely dry on the EU’s revised renewable energy policy and already it is under threat from the aviation sector, warn Jori Sihvonen and Andrew Murphy.
Both are experts with green transport NGO Transport & Environment.
That sector’s UN aviation agency, ICAO, known for its “spectacular lack of transparency”, is once more having a closed door meeting which risks clearing the way for the type of bad biofuels the EU has spent a decade trying to get rid of.
And, on top of that, they are seeking to add “lower carbon” aviation fossil fuels as an option to cut aviation emissions.
ICAO and the aviation sector have been looking to biofuels to reverse their massive and continuing emissions growth. The agency has agreed that biofuels should be an option to comply with CORSIA, the global offsetting measure that aims to limit aviation emissions to 2020 levels.
But this also means that ICAO has to develop rules for what biofuels can be credited and by how much – ie, how much of an emissions reduction each biofuel delivers.
This is where this week’s meeting of ICAO’s environment committee in Montreal plays a significant role. It will decide rules for biofuels based on technical work done over the last three years. The meeting will also decide the main work areas for the next three years.
The two criteria adopted include:
– no deforestation after 2009
– and a 10% greenhouse gas savings threshold – including emissions from indirect land-use change or ILUC.
(ILUC refers to the indirect effect of increasing the demand for agricultural land – in this case for biofuels – and displacing the existing production to expand the agricultural frontier to natural habitats, mainly forest and grassland, causing emissions from deforestation.)
The other 10 themes were not approved, covering important issues such as human rights, land rights, environmental protection, food security, water protection, etc.
The ICAO council asked the environment committee to reexamine whether the excluded criteria were truly required and that will be debated now. The European and progressive members of the committee should stay strong and require the full set of criteria to be adopted.
Another important issue on the agenda is the rules on counting the GHG emissions. As we know from available documents, the GHG savings criteria will include emissions from induced (or indirect) land-use change (ILUC).
The effect can only be accurately accounted for using models. What sort of values, and under what assumption the modelling is done, is going to impact how much GHG savings they are credited with providing under CORSIA.
Europe’s Renewable Energy Directive is predicated on the basis that the ILUC effect significantly increases the climate impact of biofuels to the point where many of them are worse than the fossil fuels they replaced.
In 2015, the EU decided to cap the use of crop biofuels. Now EU countries need to use food-based biofuels to meet renewable energy targets, but following the adoption of a new law that comes into force in 2021, EU member states will no longer be forced to use food-based biofuels.
Meanwhile the eligibility of “high indirect land-use change-risk biofuels” towards meeting renewables targets will be phased out by 2030. This could mean no more palm oil in our tanks as palm expansion is associated with significant deforestation. Models also show that palm oil has on average the highest ILUC emissions. The US already restricts the use of palm oil under its renewable fuels law.
However, if ICAO fails to adopt rules which mirror the direction taken by those in the EU, it will provide a backdoor to the use of food-based biofuels and palm oil in the aviation sector.
Already three airlines (Malaysia Airlines, Malindo Airways and AirAsia ) have joined forces for a “Love Palm Oil” campaign, and we don’t know how many more are eagerly waiting to burn these crops.
But if ILUC is not considered or is underestimated, there is a danger that ICAO will give its stamp of approval for the use of palm oil, a crop which every year is responsible for 1-2% of global warming. Overall the focus should be on advanced fuels, as crop-based biofuels cannot be considered a long-term decarbonisation option for aviation.
The council of ICAO also recently gave in to a Saudi push, backed by the US, to include lower carbon aviation fuels as an option for complying with CORSIA. These are traditional fossil fuels produced in a manner which marginally reduces their climate impact. This week states will push for rules to expedite the crediting of such fuels.
All of this information is based on previous leaks and what we know are the planned ‘next steps’ for the committee. The meetings of ICAO and its environment committee are notoriously secret affairs where even the few observers allowed in are restricted on what they can say. One of the world’s biggest emitters is regulated almost entirely in secret.
What is clear for us is that the EU needs to retain its control of setting policy in Europe while fighting for the best possible criteria at international level. It must fight to ensure that rulemaking is founded on reality.
Those so called lower carbon fuels:
Oil giant Saudi Arabia, for example, has previously argued that the 2016 agreement should be “fuel neutral” – whereby it does not discriminate between different types of fuels – because technological advances could one day enable crude to be produced with 10% fewer emissions, as the deal requires, according to a Saudi presentation seen by Reuters.
UN aviation agency may include fossil fuels in emissions deal: sources
By Allison Lampert, Julia Fioretti
MONTREAL/BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The U.N. aviation agency is expected to include fossil fuels in a landmark global agreement to limit aircraft emissions, a move that could encourage airlines to purchase crude over more costly biojet fuels, sources familiar with the matter said.
Countries at the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) are seeking to agree on rules that will govern how the overall deal, brokered by the ICAO in 2016, will be implemented.
The United States, backed by Saudi Arabia and other countries, has proposed giving airlines credit for using crude oil as well as aviation fuels from renewable sources like corn, provided they meet the deal’s lower-emissions criteria, two industry sources said.
Europe will back the proposal next week at an ICAO meeting in Montreal, as long as the fossil fuels eligible under the deal deliver actual carbon savings, two European Commission officials said separately.
ICAO experts would determine how many emissions each fuel emits to avoid any confusion.
The emission levels of individual fuels need to be “very robust so there is no fooling around with what is the actual performance of one fuel over another”, one of the officials said.
Oil giant Saudi Arabia, for example, has previously argued that the 2016 agreement should be “fuel neutral” – whereby it does not discriminate between different types of fuels – because technological advances could one day enable crude to be produced with 10 percent fewer emissions, as the deal requires, according to a Saudi presentation seen by Reuters.
“What they (the Saudis) are saying is ‘don’t rule it out for us,” said the first industry source.
All of the sources spoke on condition of anonymity because talks on how to implement the 2016 deal, known as the Carbon Offset and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), are private.
Representatives from Saudi Arabia and the U.S. State Department did not respond to requests for comment. An ICAO spokesman declined to comment.
LOWER EMISSION FOSSIL FUELS
The European Commission sent a letter to EU ministers this week reiterating concerns that any attempts to weaken the 2016 deal, which will go into effect in 2021, should be “strongly opposed.”
The agreement aims to cap airline emissions at 2020 levels, and airlines would be required to limit their emissions or offset them by buying carbon credits from designated environmental projects around the world.
Airlines would receive credit toward lowering their emissions if they use eligible lower-carbon fuels.
Haldane Dodd, spokesman for the Air Transport Action Group, which represents 50 members of the aviation industry, would not take a position on the use of lower-carbon crudes but advocated “strong sustainability standards for our fuels.”
Europe hopes that airlines will still be encouraged to use more costly biojet fuels if they deliver bigger emissions savings.
But with aviation biofuels now only produced in small quantities, lowering the emissions of conventional jet fuel may prove a better option for the environment, said a fifth source who works in the aviation industry.
“If we can develop technologies that are going to make fossil fuels with lower emissions, isn’t that a carbon savings compared with business as usual?”