Interest groups are sharply divided over whether a global deal to rein in aviation emissions should feature offsets as officials gathered to study the latest proposals for a global market-based measure.
While investors and some NGOs said an offset-based agreement could plug a shortfall in funds for tropical forest protection and kickstart a global REDD+ market, dozens of environmental campaign groups warned that any use of offsets would be a dangerous distraction from curbing the sector’s rapid emissions growth.
The groups brought out position papers as government officials gathered in Utrecht, Netherlands, for an update on the deal’s progress by UN airline body ICAO.
The meeting is one of several so-called Global Aviation Dialogues (GLADs) being held this spring as the body approaches the conclusion of three-year talks on a global market-based mechanism at its September assembly in Montreal.
Technical ICAO negotiations have been focused on crafting an offsetting system to take effect from 2020 to help the sector achieve carbon neutral growth from 2020. The airline industry has set itself an aspirational goal of a 50% cut in emissions on 2005 levels by 2050.
Sustainable investor and services trade association CMIA said allowing airlines to offset their emissions growth with REDD+ credits would create a “win-win” for the climate and tropical forest communities.
“The international nature of the aviation industry makes it ideally-placed to invest in large cross-border projects that tackle deforestation and forest degradation,” the organisation said in an emailed release on Monday.
It added that REDD+ projects have been developed with rigour and integrity, bolstered by a global framework agreed by the UNFCCC and recognised in the Paris Agreement.
CMIA said risks surrounding the permanence of REDD+ credits could be addressed as they have in the voluntary carbon market by using a buffer of units set aside as insurance against carbon stocks lost through fires or illegal logging.
This idea was echoed by a group of environmental NGOs and think-tanks including EDF and The Nature Conservancy, which believe that operational and aircraft efficiency improvements would still leave the sector some 7.8 billion tonnes of CO2 short of its emission goals over the next decade without offsetting.
“A well-designed market-based mechanism that includes REDD+ will not only drive rapid emissions reductions but also benefit tropical communities and ecosystems around the world,” said Lynn Scarlett of The Nature Conservancy.
OFFSETS OR NOT?
The airline industry is pushing hard for ICAO talks to agree on a wide range of criteria for eligible offsets to ensure it has plentiful supply.
Sources close to the negotiations have told Carbon Pulse that many ICAO parties favour offset use as a cost-effective option amid slim prospects of deep, direct emission cuts on the horizon.
But a huge swathe of environmental campaigners object outright to offset use in principle and argue that land-based crediting such as REDD+ would not guarantee permanent emission reductions and could destabilise communities often lacking strong governance.
“Plans to offset the majority of the sector’s growth in emissions are a significant distraction from real measures to reduce aviation emissions,” said a statement signed by 79 green groups worldwide including Greenpeace, FERN, and the Third World Network.
They said that ICAO’s guidelines already exclude REDD+ because they require that emission reductions be permanent, and FERN called instead for a global carbon tax for aviation, the revenues of which should be directed to the Green Climate Fund or Adaptation Fund.
The groups also questioned how the use of offsets would overcome Paris Agreement principles such as avoiding double-counting, when many countries have pledged in their INDCs to curb emissions by protecting their forests.
The position papers can be found here:
- REDD+ as a win-win solution for international aviation– CMIA policy paper
- Linking Flight and Forests: The Essential Role of Forests in Supporting Global Aviation’s Response to Climate Change– policy paper by NGOs in favour of airlines offsetting with forestry credits
- Aviation industry’s offset plans distracts from urgent need to reduce emissions– NGO letter and briefing note urging ICAO not to use offsetting in aviation measure
By Ben Garside – firstname.lastname@example.org