Critics attack secrecy at UN’s ICAO CAEP committee, tasked with cutting global airline CO2 emissions

A UN ICAO committee, Committee on Aviation and Environmental Protection (CAEP), with the job of cutting global aircraft carbon emissions (an issue of global concern) is meeting secretly, for discussions dominated by airline industry observers. The committee always meets behind closed doors; the press and other observers are not allowed in (unlike other UN committees).  The committee’s agenda and discussion documents are not released to the public or the international press. Anyone who leaks documents being discussed faces “unlimited liability for confidentiality breaches”, according to ICAO rules.  The only non-governmental body not linked to the airline industry allowed into the meeting is the International Coalition for Sustainable Aviation (ICSA), made up of a small group of international environmental NGOs. Transparency International says “Agencies which set common global standards for large, international industries have to be transparent in order to prevent capture by corporate interests … ”  A key concern is that the committee wants to certify biofuels, that are definitely NOT environmentally sustainable, as low carbon. And also fossil oil, produced using solar energy – also NOT a low carbon fuel. The committee needs to be open to public scrutiny.



The problem is that the UK is determined to see the ICAO process, CORSIA, as the way aviation carbon will be dealt with. With its secrecy and low standards, it is NOT sufficient. The UK needs to do more to restrict aviation CO2 emissions. Not just use ICAO as a convenient excuse for inaction.

Critics attack secrecy at UN body seeking to cut global airline emissions

Body in charge of cutting aviation’s carbon footprint meets behind closed doors

A UN body tasked with cutting global aircraft emissions is covertly meeting this week for discussions dominated by airline industry observers.

The environment committee of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) meets on Monday in Montreal behind closed doors to discuss measures to reduce emissions from international aircraft. Domestic and international flights emitted 895m tonnes of CO2 last year – 2.4% of global energy-related CO2 emissions, according to Carbon Brief. In terms of emissions, if aviation were a country it would be the sixth largest in the world.

But the body in charge of reducing the carbon footprint of international aviation has little or no public scrutiny. Its agenda and discussion documents are not released to the public or the international press, and the meetings are not open to the media.

Anyone who leaks documents being discussed faces “unlimited liability for confidentiality breaches”, according to ICAO rules.

Key observers at Monday’s meeting of the ICAO  Committee on Aviation and Environmental Protection (CAEP) are a number of industry bodies. They include the International Business Aviation Council, the International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations, the Arab Civil Aviation Commission, the International Coordinating Council of Aerospace Industries Associations, the Airports Council International (ACI) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

The only non-governmental body not linked to the airline industry allowed into the meeting is the International Coalition for Sustainable Aviation, (ICSA)  made up of a small group of international environmental NGOs.

Nadja Kostka, climate project coordinator at Transparency International, said: “Agencies which set common global standards for large, international industries have to be transparent in order to prevent capture by corporate interests, or even the appearance of undue influence.

“The ICAO currently meets behind closed doors, including for discussion about emissions, which affect the entire planet. We’ve seen similar situations at other UN agencies … we strongly believe that all UN bodies need to commit to transparent ways of working in order to gain the public’s trust.”

The key discussions on reducing emissions come amid growing pressure from some countries – and their airlines – to open the doors to all types of biofuels, including those which cause environmental destruction, such as palm oil-based fuels.

Malaysia, which is not a member of CAEP, is pushing a campaign – Love my Palm Oil – to extend it to non-food use, supported by its three main airlines.

Twenty-four countries, including the UK, France, Canada, Singapore, Russia and the US, have representatives at this week’s meeting.

This year international aircraft will for the first time have to start monitoring their emissions as part of ICAO measures to reduce emissions with a market-based system of purchasing emissions offsets – rather than by directly reducing aircraft emissions.

They can reduce the amount of carbon emissions they have to offset by using biofuels, but as yet there has been no agreement by member countries on restricting the new fuels to those which are sustainable.

The scheme was agreed in 2016 by the ICAO countries. But few believe it will have the required impact on cutting emissions in a growing aviation industry in which passenger numbers are predicted to double to 8.2 billion in 2037.

The International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) said it could only be expected to “modestly reduce” the net climate impact of international aviation up to 2035.

Andrew Murphy of the NGO Transport and Environment, said the lack of transparency gave little confidence that the ICAO would tackle emissions, adding: “Media are free, and in fact encouraged, to cover similar meetings in other UN agencies …

“It’s well past time that ICAO brought its media practices into line with the rest of the UN family, a move which would help raise confidence in its decision-making.”

Last year Saudi Arabia – with the backing of the US – secured a new definition at the ICAO of alternative fuels to include “clean oil” because the refinery producing the oil was run on renewable electricity – something Murphy said amounted to “greenwash oil” and was “an awful deal for the climate”.

The environmental NGOs are calling for the ICAO and all its committees to open to the public and remove threats of “unlimited liability” for members who release documents.

“At present, state and observer submissions to CAEP remain unavailable to those outside of CAEP,” they said.

“When such submissions contain commercially sensitive information, such secrecy may be acceptable. However, this justification oftentimes deserves to be challenged, as information from manufacturers which is submitted to CAEP is, as a matter of course, available to other manufactures, and therefore no harm can be identified from making it available to a broader range of actors.

“Such a level of secrecy stands in contrast to other UN agencies.”

Under the Paris climate change agreement, emissions from international aviation are not specifically included in national climate targets required by countries to pursue efforts to limit global temperature increases to 1.5C. This leaves ICAO as the primary body for reducing airline emissions.

A spokesman for ICAO provided the Guardian with a list of attendees to the meeting and said the meeting results would be made available, but not the discussion papers. “Only the CAEP members and recognized observers are permitted in the room for said discussions,” he said.



See also


ICAO’s CORSIA low standards on biofuels risk undercutting EU’s new renewables rules

The UN’s ICAO is a secretive organisation, that has been woefully ineffective in limiting the CO2 emissions of global aviation. There are considerable concerns that it will try to get bad biofuels certified as low carbon, in order to whitewash the sector’s emissions in future. The global deal, CORSIA, making the first tentative steps towards restricting aviation CO2 at all is just starting. There is, elsewhere, growing understanding that biofuels are generally not the way forward, and their real lifecycle carbon emissions are far higher than their proponents make out. ICAO has now agree 2 criteria (out of 12 possible) for aviation biofuels. These are that there should have been no deforestation after 2009; and there should be at least a saving of 10% of green house gas emissions, (including emissions from indirect land-use change or ILUC) compared to fossil jet kerosene. ICAO’s environment committee will develop rules for what biofuels can be credited – ie. how much of an emissions reduction each biofuel delivers.  The effect can only be accurately accounted for using models. There is a serious danger they will try and include palm oil. And countries like Saudi Arabia are trying to get “lower carbon” fossil fuels included, if their production can be 10% more carbon efficient.  So aviation will continue to emit vast amounts of carbon for decades….

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Malaysian airlines back Malaysian campaign to boost palm oil production and use

A Malaysian newspaper comments on the Ministry of Primary Industries’ year-long “Love MY Palm Oil” campaign. It aims to fight anti-palm oil campaigns that backers of palm oil growing say are threatening people’s livelihoods.  Now 3 Malaysian airlines have joined the campaign, Malaysia Airlines, Malindo Airways and AirAsia.  The airlines, with Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB), “will extol the virtues of palm oil through their digital info screens, in-flight magazines and entertainment systems, art and product displays.” The Primary Industries minister says they are displaying “patriotism” and elevating the image of palm oil.  This followed the European Parliament’s Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) passing a resolution in October 2018 to ban palm oil biofuels in Europe by 2020.  Malaysia and Indonesia are the largest producers of palm oil globally.  Malaysia’s Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is due to hold the official launch of the “Love MY Palm Oil” campaign in the first quarter of 2019. [Palm oil as a fuel for aircraft is a disaster, as its life-cycle carbon emissions are high, taking into account the Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC) impacts. Not to mention the deforestation and loss of biodiversity. But palm oil would be cheap fuel for airlines, regardless of how environmentally harmful it is ….]

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CORSIA and its failings explained – great piece from Carbon Brief

In a long, detailed and very informative article from Carbon Brief, Jocelyn Timperley explains the CORSIA scheme for aircraft carbon emissions, and its failings. While airlines are starting this year to measure and record their carbon emissions for the first time, it is not expected that the scheme will do anything much to limit aviation carbon.  “It can be expected to “modestly reduce” the net climate impact of international aviation up to 2035, according to the (ICCT). This is only if high-quality offsets are used and those offsets are not “double counted”, the think-tank adds….  Unless it is extended beyond 2035, Corsia will cover only 6% of projected CO2 emissions from all international aviation between 2015 and 2050, ICCT data indicates.”  That assumes China will partake from the pilot phase. “Base emissions continue to grow under Corsia due to uncovered traffic….. The ICCT argues this means Corsia “does not obviate the need for an ICAO long-term climate goal”. Because of a range of issues, like biofuels, offsets, forestry etc : “It’s not just that Corsia is a weak measure – it’s that it’s an actively bad measure, that risks doing more harm than good.”

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