Is Europe compromising too much to get the aviation carbon market up and running?

The European Union has told the UN aviation body that it accepts the draft rules for the future global aviation offsetting scheme without changes but raises questions about the quality of offsets. Leaving the rules unchanged poses risks which include allowing in almost any offset with very limited oversight. The EU and its member states should secure transparency and minimum environmental standards at the international talks and abide by their own values at home by making all information on offsets bought by airlines publicly available.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is currently preparing the rulebook for the aviation’s future climate tool, the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme (CORSIA).

Under an extended deadline, states have until 20 April to comment on the draft rules, which are due to be adopted by the ICAO Council’s 36 member countries in June this year. If governments seek changes to the text, ICAO may decide to open the document to amend it.

In its response to ICAO, the European Commission, representing the EU’s 28 member states, says that it is willing to accept the text unchanged, despite some important missing elements. However, should the rules be reopened, the EU would want a stronger application of offset rules, a quality screening of projects with a vintage restriction (only allowing credits from projects that start after a certain date), and independent verification of compliance – essential elements to reduce the carbon in a carbon market. 

How to verify credit quality without transparency?

Past experiences show that airlines have purchased offsets that were later banned for creating perverse incentives to pollute more. The ability to identify poor methodologies is directly linked to public access to offset information.

Priding itself as a champion of transparency, the EU has an important role to play here. Yet, in its response to ICAO, it doesn’t make any reference to the issue. Furthermore, the EU restricted in 2013 the information it makes publicly available on the offsets that airlines in Europe have been purchasing.

As there is a risk of potentially any offset being allowed for surrender under CORSIA, the EU must make clear that its own offset restrictions (no nuclear, industrial gas or afforestation/reforestation projects) are to be respected. For that to be clear, all relevant data on airline offset purchases needs to be reintroduced for public viewing in the ETS registry. The EU will have an opportunity to clarify this position when preparing aviation monitoring, reporting and verifying arrangements for CORSIA that start January 1st of next year. Once we take care of transparency at home we can encourage other ICAO states to do the same.