BLOG: What ICAO’s high level group need to consider

ICAO has convened a group of countries to continue negotiating the details of its proposed market-based measure, called the Carbon Offsetting Scheme for International Aviation (COSIA) in the most recent draft proposals. This high level group meeting, from the 14th-15th of April, aims to find common ground on contentious political decisions for the proposal that will be agreed (or not…?) by all at October’s ICAO Assembly.

The outcomes of the Paris Climate Agreement will obviously need to be taken into due consideration in the development of the market-based measure. After all, the same governments that bound themselves to pursue efforts to limit warming to 1.5ºC, are the ones that are now deciding how international aviation will contribute to vital goal.

Putting in place the structures to ensure that emissions reductions are not counted twice towards different targets will be essential to the viability of the market-based measure and requires a meticulous registry system. Making sure the emissions registries developed under the UNFCCC and ICAO ‘speak’ to each other will be important, as the UNFCCC will be the most comprehensive system building on past expertise with emission transfers. The UNFCCC will need to ensure that emissions reductions under countries’ Intended Nationally-Determined Contributions are cancelled from national registries if they are traded on the carbon markets. It should be noted that ensuring no double counting of voluntary market credits is potentially more complicated.

If credits used to offset emissions from international aviation avoid double counting but lack environmental integrity, they should not be counted even once. Should ICAO agree to set common mandatory minimum standards for credits eligibility then this would again help to increase the value of the market-based measure as an instrument to tackle climate change. This could also enable the aviation industry to be seen as supporting developing countries that are exempt in the early years of the market measure.

Experience shows that these would need to exclude fossil fuel power and extraction projects, large hydro power and land use emissions including REDD+ (fossil carbon, as from plane fuel, has been stably stored for 300-360 million years, biological carbon can undergo catastrophic emissions releases in periods of less than a year). Credits from HFC-23 and nitrous oxide from adipic acid production should also be excluded.

Of course, the only way to confirm that the market-based measure respects best practices of carbon markets requires transparency and public access to relevant information on the ICAO website, including operator-wide fuel use, alternative fuel use, emission units surrendered (quantity, type and any independent certification) and status of operator compliance. Governance of the market-based measure must also be transparent and allow for public input to ensure a level playing field between all operators and contain robust standards to prevent conflicts of interest.

 Agreeing these fundamental elements will do much to promote the integrity of the market-based measure, and aviation’s reputation as a good faith actor on climate change.

by Kat Watts