A draft UN plan to offset the air industry’s surging growth in emissions contains too many exemptions to be credible and too little detail to be trustworthy, European diplomats say.
Aviation is one of only two sectors not covered by the Paris climate agreement and many diplomats are optimistic that the UN International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) blueprint can be whittled into shape before a Montreal conference this September.
But several loopholes in the text present serious obstacles to a signing ceremony, with China and other countries still dragging their heels over core concepts such as “carbon neutral growth” in the industry after 2020.
If an adequate deal is not done, the EU will be obliged to restart its “stopped clock” on bringing international airlines into its more punitive Emissions Trading System (ETS). Without a pact, this will happen automatically at the end of the year.
One European diplomat involved in the negotiations likened the chances of the European commission and parliament agreeing to keep the clock on ice to a “one billion dollar question”.
He told the Guardian: “It depends on three big elements: carbon neutral growth after 2020, a review clause to increase ambition over time, and robust accounting that is consistent with UNFCCC [the UN body that oversees the climate talks] reporting guidelines. Those three big things are still missing from the text.”
Under the plan, developed countries would start offsetting their emissions growth from aviation with carbon cuts elsewhere in the world in 2021. They would be joined five years later by “upper medium income states” such as Brazil, Mexico and China.
More than 100 poor countries and small island states would be excluded from the system altogether. Unless rich world airlines compensate for their carbon output, curbs are unlikely to slow aviation emissions which have been predicted to grow up to 700% above 2005 levels by mid-century.
Measuring these curbs though would be complicated by the lack of a “negative list” of non-eligible projects in the draft, for which offsets could be claimed. Without this, even nuclear power projects might be considered for offset credits as a low carbon energy source, some officials privately say.
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“For now we can’t be sure which credits will be used so we can’t have a 100% guarantee of the environmental integrity of the scheme, which is is absolutely necessary if you want to achieve carbon neutral growth,” a diplomat said.
Eighty campaign groups have taken a stand against ICAO’s plan, arguing it would allow the double counting of existing climate programmes, while aforestation projects could force indigenous peoples from their land or create other land use problems.
Hannah Mowat, a campaigner for the conservation group Fern, said: “ICAO’s own standards rule forests and land offsets out from the start, because they need to be permanent emissions reductions, which is impossible to prove for forests because the removals are reversible.”
Some European negotiators believe that these concerns will be satisfied in an eventual resolution, the first draft of which is expected later this month.
But the current proposal to end the ICAO scheme after 15 years will need amending, if it is to square with the Paris agreement’s mechanism of reviewing and ratcheting up carbon targets every five years. These are meant to increase carbon cuts until a world warmed by 2C or less is in sight.
“The [planned] global market-based mechanism foresees a termination of the system in 2035, which is completely contradictory with the need to increase the ambition of greenhouse gas reductions over time,” a diplomat said.
An ICAO consultation in Utrecht on Tuesday was said to have made progress in shining a light on contentious issues. An updated text is expected later this month, ahead of a high level meeting on 11 May to prepare for the September Icao council meeting.
Source: The Guardian