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The aviation industry’s plans for the climate: Cooking the books and the planet

In June 2018, the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) approved rules and standards for its planned carbon trading scheme, the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA). We are sleepwalking into a climate disaster.

Nevertheless, ICAO describes this as a “landmark decision”. In a press statement, ICAO Council President Dr. Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu says,

“Aviation has now set out not only its climate change goals, but also the means to achieve them. The progress achieved today is a clear demonstration of the unwavering commitment, on behalf of both governments and airlines, to minimize the future impact of international aviation on the global climate.”

Unfortunately, ICAO’s “unwavering commitment” is to ensure that the aviation industry can continue to expand and continue to increase its greenhouse gas emissions. The carbon offsets in CORSIA have everything to do with allowing emissions from aviation to continue and nothing to do with minimising aviation’s impact on the climate.

Making oil green?

ICAO has managed to undermine its already pathetically weak carbon trading scheme. ICAO gave in to lobbying from Saudi Arabia and the United States and included “lower carbon conventional fuels” in the definition of “sustainable” aviation fuels. According to ICAO, then, “green fuel” includes kerosene as long as it is produced in an oil refinery running on renewable energy.

Meanwhile ICAO’s Council postponed decisions about the rules covering which offsets will be allowed to be traded under CORSIA. Julie Girling of the European Parliament’s environmental committee notes that,

The offset can has been kicked down the road to avoid confrontation which doesn’t augur well for future agreement. The decision on fossil fuels is a bizarre and unnecessary concession to oil producing countries including the US.

China was reported to have pulled out of the pilot stage of CORSIA.

In fact, China has never agreed to take part in CORSIA. A representative of China’s delegation to ICAO told GreenAir that, “China has not made a decision yet whether to join the CORSIA pilot phase or first phase”.

China has the second largest civil aviation industry after the United States. China plans to expand the number of passengers by 11.4% in 2018.

Emissions from aviation are increasing rapidly

Emissions from the aviation sector are rising rapidly, and will continue to do so under ICAO carbon trading scheme.

On 13 July 2018, the website Flight Radar 24 tracked 205,468 flights – a record number for one day. 29 June 2018 was the first time the website had tracked more than 200,000 flights.

ICAO reports that in 2017, 4.1 billion passengers flew – an increase of 7.1% over 2016. ICAO Secretary General Dr. Fang Liu argues that by flying more, we are somehow benefiting the poor:

“Air traffic growth is making key contributions towards the achievement of United Nations Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, offering an opportunity to lift a generation out of poverty, figuratively and literally. As a UN agency, ICAO is deeply committed to ensuring that all countries have an opportunity to benefit from the doubling in flight and passenger volumes forecast for the next 15 years.”

Of course Liu makes no mention of the impact that the aviation sector’s emissions have on climate change, or of the devastating impact that climate change is already having on the world’s poorest communities.

EDF and TNC appear not to care about the aviation industry’s impact on climate change

Despite this disaster in the making for the world’s climate, the Environmental Defense Fund and The Nature Conservancy welcomed the latest developments on CORSIA. EDF describes CORSIA’s rules as “an important step forward in [ICAO’s] efforts to address the role of air travel in contributing to climate change”.

But even EDF recognises that ICAO is cooking the books by allowing fossil fuel to count as “green fuel”. Annie Petsonk, International Counsel at EDF, comments,

“A potentially troubling development at the last minute involved changes to the SARPs so that airlines could in principle claim credit for fossil fuels if those emit less carbon over their lifecycle than conventional fossil fuels. This change could present a serious stumbling block for CORSIA’s overall credibility, as it remains doubtful whether such fuels could meet the stringent criteria that the public will expect from this system.”

Isn’t it odd though, to see a so-called environmental organisation raising concerns about the “credibility” of the CORSIA carbon trading scam, rather than worrying about the impact of the aviation sector’s ever increasing greenhouse gas emissions on the planet’s climate?
 

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