1 December 2021

GreenAir News

Reporting on aviation and the environment

ICAO completes final building blocks for implementing CORSIA carbon scheme ahead of pilot phase start

ICAO’s governing Council has adopted decisions on eligible carbon emissions units and sustainability certification schemes for eligible fuels that the UN agency says are the final building blocks for the CORSIA carbon offsetting mechanism for international aviation, which formally starts next month. At its 221st session, the Council accepted recommendations from its Technical Advisory Body (TAB) on a second set of eligible emissions units (EEUs) for use with offsetting requirements in the initial 2021-2023 pilot phase of CORSIA. This includes the approval of the Architecture for REDD+ Transactions (ART) to supply airlines with national and subnational (jurisdictional) forestry protection carbon credits. ART was the only new second-round applicant to be recommended for immediate eligibility to supply CORSIA EEUs. RSB and ISCC have been approved as sustainability certification schemes for CORSIA eligible fuels.

Commenting on the outcome of the session, Council President Salvatore Sciacchitano said: “ICAO set out a vision for carbon-neutral growth in international aviation and we have now seen that vision bear fruit. The Council’s decisions on eligible emissions units and sustainability certification schemes are the final steps necessary for CORSIA’s timely implementation.”

The approval of EEUs applies for use with offsetting requirements in the pilot phase and are subject to their respective scope of eligibility and eligibility dates. Issued units must be in respect of activities that started their first crediting period from 1 January 2016 and in respect of emissions reductions through 31 December 2020. It requires TAB recommendation and Council approval for an extension to the eligibility timeframes beyond the pilot phase.

TAB has now recommended and the Council approved seven emissions units programmes for eligibility across the two assessment cycles: American Carbon Registry (ACR), Architecture for REDD+ Transactions (ART), China GHG Voluntary Emission Reduction Program, the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), Climate Action Reserve (CAR), Gold Standard and Verified Carbon Standard (Verra).

The approval by ICAO of Winrock’s ART and Verra’s Jurisdictional Nested REDD+ (JNR) represents the first acceptance of REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) standards in a compliance market and is an important moment in the development of REDD+, said the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA).

A paper published by IETA calls for increased investment to prevent deforestation and for carbon markets to channel finance to all pathways that protect, restore and enhance the ecosystems that draw down and store carbon from the atmosphere.

“We need to scale up finance to avoid deforestation – especially tropical deforestation – in a way that contributes to sustainable development goals in forested regions,” said IETA CEO Dirk Forrister.

The paper points out that many countries have included REDD+ activities as part of their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to the Paris Agreement and that scenario modelling indicates dramatic reductions in deforestation are necessary to help achieve the Paris Agreement’s 1.5C temperature goal.

“Reducing deforestation and the conversion of natural habitats must be prioritised and recognised for its significant climate change mitigation potential in the short-to-medium term,” said Ellen Lourie, Senior Policy Associate at IETA. “If forests are allowed to be destroyed, it won’t be possible to recapture and store the lost carbon in new forests quickly enough to meet the Paris goals.”

Natural Climate Solutions (NCS) is becoming an increasingly large component of the voluntary market, says IETA, and in 2019 forestry and land use represented over 50% of the market by value. The private sector-led Taskforce on Scaling Voluntary Carbon Markets is looking to increase the voluntary market by at least 15-fold by 2030, which, says IETA, represents an opportunity to direct significant new finance into forest protection.

Commenting on the ICAO outcome, Frances Seymour, Chair of the ART board, said: “We applaud the ICAO Council’s decision to approve jurisdictional REDD+ credits from ART. Protecting and restoring tropical forests can contribute up to one-third of the climate results the world needs over the next two decades, representing a massive mitigation opportunity that needs access to private sector capital at scale. ART was designed as a Paris Agreement-aligned, fit-for-purpose crediting programme that provides the assurance of integrity and safeguards that markets need.”

ART, which uses The REDD+ Environmental Excellency Standard (TREES), said its crediting ensures that jurisdictions meet standard market requirements for robust accounting, independent third-party verification and issuance of serialised units on a transparent registry. Despite the impact of the Covid pandemic and the subsequent adjustment to the CORSIA baseline that would delay the need for the airline industry to purchase offsets for compliance with the scheme, the ICAO approval had been interpreted as a ‘seal of quality’ by market participants, said ART. It stated that since the first crediting programmes were approved in March 2020, interest in purchasing CORSIA-eligible credits was increasing from outside the airline industry as a way to ensure they were investing in credible emission reductions.

“ART was established in anticipation of catalytic private sector interest in REDD+, especially in industries with hard-to-abate emissions,” said Mary Grady, Director of the ART Secretariat. “We hope ICAO’s approval provides the needed quality imprimatur for voluntary investments in REDD+ that extends beyond the global aviation sector.”

Mario Boccucci, Head of the UN-REDD Programme Secretariat, commended ICAO’s approval of jurisdictional and national REDD+ crediting programmes, adding: “The UN-REDD Programme is ready to continue to support REDD countries ensure high-quality and environmental integrity, and provide technical assistance to meet NDCs and raise ambition.”

NGO Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has helped to establish the Emergent Forest Finance Accelerator, a non-profit finance intermediary supported by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Norwegian government’s International Climate and Forest Initiative, to facilitate large-scale REDD+ transactions using the ART framework. It is collaborating with ART, Emergent, the UN REDD Programme and Forest Trends on the ‘Green Gigaton Challenge: Bringing REDD+ to Scale’ that seeks to set a demand signal that can scale up to at least a billion tons per year in emissions reductions transacted from high-integrity jurisdictional REDD+ by 2025.

“ICAO’s decision connects limits on aviation carbon pollution with investments in tropical forest protection and restoration, and is a win for nature, countries, companies and communities,” said Ruben Lubowski, Associate VP for Climate and Forests and Chief Natural Resource Economist at EDF. “After more than a decade of work on REDD+ frameworks under the UNFCCC and other fora, this marks the first time that REDD+ credits have been approved for use within a global compliance carbon market system.

“ICAO’s decision to include large, jurisdictional-scale REDD+ programmes in CORSIA sends a critical signal to companies and policymakers about the value of tropical forest protection to meet climate goals. It shows forest countries that there is a tangible demand for emissions reductions of the highest environmental and social integrity. Approval of these programmes will drive progress in reducing emissions at the scale needed to achieve the climate goals set by the aviation industry and in the Paris Agreement.”

The focus of the TAB and ICAO Council on ensuring programmes obtain from host countries written attestations that they will properly account for the transferred reductions should add to the efforts of Parties in ongoing climate talks to finalise clear guidance to ensure environmental integrity and prevent double-counting of emission reductions, said EDF. The NGO has produced analysis to show global climate cooperation through carbon markets can enable double the emissions reductions under current Paris pledges for the same cost as countries acting alone.

At its November meeting, the ICAO Council also approved two Sustainability Certification Schemes, the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB) and the International Sustainability and Carbon Certification (ISCC), as eligible to certify CORSIA Eligible Fuels, based on recommendations by ICAO’s Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection (CAEP). The use of such fuels enables aeroplane operators to reduce their CORSIA offsetting requirements from the use of low-carbon and sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) that must be certified by one of the two organisations, although there is a degree of mutual recognition between them. Such fuels must meet the CORSIA Sustainability Criteria, including to achieve net GHG emission reductions of at least 10% compared to the baseline lifecycle emission values for conventional aviation fuel and not be made from biomass obtained from land with high carbon stock.

RSB has developed its own CORSIA Standard which it said goes above and beyond the ICAO scheme’s requirements to ensure that SAF achieves at least 50% GHG reductions on its core lifecycle analysis and a minimum 10% when including CORSIA’s Induced Land Use Change values (ILUC). In addition, it adds, RSB-certified SAF enables further claims around zero deforestation, environmental protection, food security and human rights, as specified in the RSB Principles and Criteria.

RSB is supported and endorsed by many in the aviation industry and also by environmental NGO coalition group ICSA. Airline members of the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group (SAFUG), representing around a third of global commercial aviation fuel consumption, have committed to developing and using fuels consistent with RSB’s sustainability requirements. A third of RSB’s members are from the aviation sector. RSB certificate holders include Gevo, Nuseed, SkyNRG and World Energy, with further commitments to RSB certification from Velocys, LanzaTech and LanzaJet. KLM has committed to sourcing RSB-certified SAF.

Renewable jet producer Neste is also supporting RSB certification standards. “We cordially congratulate RSB for receiving ICAO recognition for its standard and we look forward to continuing the close collaboration,” said the Finnish company’s VP Business Development, Renewable Aviation, Sami Jauhiainen.

“A clear pathway is now available for industry leaders to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability goes above and beyond the legal requirements of CORSIA to also include a full range of social and environmental impacts as well,” commented Rolf Hogan, RSB’s Executive Director, on the ICAO approval. “We look forward to working with these pioneers to implement this new RSB CORSIA Standard to help transform the industry, and the world.”

Added Pedro Piris-Cabezas, Director of Sustainable International Transport and Lead Senior Economist at EDF: “ICAO Council’s approval of RSB is both an outstanding achievement for RSB and a major milestone for CORSIA, which completes CORSIA’s SAF framework. RSB’s CORSIA standard also represents a paradigm shift, moving from RSB’s original focus on sustainable biofuel volumes to a new focus on emissions reductions from the use of SAF for carbon markets.”

ISCC has also expanded the sustainability requirements for CORSIA eligible fuels with additional criteria that aims to protect water, soil, air, biodiversity and workers’ and land rights. “ISCC covers the complete set of CORSIA requirements, allowing economic operators at every point in a fuel’s supply chain to show their compliance with the CORSIA scheme by becoming ISCC CORSIA certified,” said the Germany-based certification body.

Commenting on the Council outcome on eligible units and sustainability certification schemes, ICAO Secretary General Dr Fang Liu said: “The steps that ICAO has taken to address climate change go hand-in-hand with our efforts to promote the sustainable growth and long-term prosperity of international aviation. CORSIA’s implementation elements are ready, and States and airlines are ready to make us of them.”

ICAO has launched a series of videos on ‘Navigating CORSIA’, which are guides to the scheme’s design and implementation.