Implementing States’ climate change agreements at ICAO

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ICAO Member States’ fight against climate change took important steps forward at their most recent assembly, with governments reaching a landmark agreements towards achieving net zero carbon-emissions from international aviation by 2050, and on improving their regulation of their emissions through the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA).

Both these agreements were codified through Assembly Resolution in October 2022, to be implemented by 36 states elected to the ICAO Council at the Assembly. Substantial decisions in support of the implementation of these Resolutions were reached during the Council’s 228th Session in March 2023. These decisions included amendments to all four volumes of Annex 16 to the Chicago Convention, which contain the Convention’s environmental protection Standards ad Recommended Practices. These Annex 16 amendments were adopted by the ICAO Council with an effective date of 31 July 2023, and an applicability date of 1 January 2024.

Long-term Global Aspirational Goal for International Aviation (LTAG)

Known as the “Long-term Global Aspirational Goal for International Aviation (LTAG),” the net-zero 2050 ICAO agreement supports the UNFCCC Paris Agreement’s temperature goal.

The LTAG agreement was based on the findings of a study undertaken by the ICAO Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection (CAEP) into the feasibility of such a goal. The resulting LTAG Report emphasizes the potential for significant CO2 reductions through aviation in-sector measures, including innovative technologies.

The Assembly recognized that monitoring global progress towards the achievement of the LTAG will be key to achieving these goals. That is why the 228th Session of ICAO Council requested CAEP to initiate its technical work on considering methodologies to do this. In addition, the organization of ICAO Stocktaking events by the ICAO Secretariat and the elaboration of State Action Plans by ICAO Member States are a just few examples of possible sources for gathering information on the LTAG implementation.

The ICAO LTAG Report highlighted that aviation fuel-related solutions could provide the largest contribution towards the decarbonization of the sector. Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF) are defined as renewable or waste-derived aviation fuels that meet the sustainability criteria as referenced in the ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices related to CORSIA – Annex 16 Volume IV. The drop-in nature of SAF means that they fulfill the same technical and safety requirements as fossil-based jet fuels, without a change in existing aircraft or fuel-supply infrastructure.

Contributions from Fuels (in green) towards decarbonization of the sector

On 28 March 2023, the Council convened an informal meeting with several global development banks (the African Development Bank, the Emirates Development Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the European Investment Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the World Bank) and the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG) to address the challenges and opportunities in decarbonizing international civil aviation.

In setting the scene for the meeting, the Secretary General provided an overview of ICAO’s aviation decarbonization efforts, and highlighted that much investment and financing would be needed to promote the achievement of the LTAG, and while aviation was often seen to be a hard-to-abate sector, there were significant opportunities in the green transition, and moreover that aviation could be the perfect pilot for showcasing the viability of a net zero ambition.

The 228th Session of the ICAO Council reaffirmed the importance of ICAO’s continued and sustained engagement with financial institutions, private sector investors and fuel producers, and continued to plan informal meetings with private investors and fuel producers in June 2023 in order to further advance this cooperation. This will be particularly crucial in terms of advancing the goals of the ICAO Assistance, Capacity-Building and Training for SAF (ACT-SAF) Programme, which current includes 71 States and 35 organizations.

The Council also endorsed preparations toward the Third ICAO Conference on Aviation and Alternative Fuels (CAAF/3), which will include outreach initiatives with financial institutions and fuel producers. The Council decided it will take place from 21 to 24 November 2023 in Dubai, UAE, and that two pre-CAAF/3 meetings will take place: the first to be held in conjunction with the LTAG Stocktaking event from 11 to 13 July 2023, and the second in September 2023. The meeting will build on the success of the Second ICAO Conference on Aviation and Alternative Fuels (CAAF/2) in 2017, which had resulted in the endorsement of the 2050 ICAO Vision for SAF.

Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA)

The Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) is the first global market-based measure that applies to an entire international industrial sector. It supplements other aviation-related mitigation measures (technological and operational improvements) to assist ICAO Member States achieve an aspirational carbon neutral growth goal.

To provide clarifications on technical matters related to CORSIA’s monitoring, reporting and verification provisions and to ensure alignment with the outcomes of the 41st Session of the ICAO Assembly, the 228th Session of the ICAO Council adopted amendments to the CORSIA standards and recommended practices (SARPs) in Annex 16, Volume IV. One of the most important among these relates to the alignment of the CORSIA verification procedures with the latest versions of relevant ISO Standards. This will ensure that the verification process under the scheme continues to ensure the highest possible level of reliability of CORSIA-related data and information.

The Council also agreed on an offsetting threshold of 3,000 tonnes of CO2 in a three-year compliance period to ease the administrative burden on operators with low activity levels and offsetting requirements.

Contribution of CORSIA for reducing international aviation net CO2 emissions

The Council also amended SARPs to implement changes to design elements of CORSIA that were decided by the Assembly. CO2 emissions in 2019 will now be the baseline for the pilot phase of CORSIA (2021-2023), and then 85% of these levels thereafter (2024-2035). Percentages of the sectoral and individual operator’s growth factors for the calculation of offsetting requirements under CORSIA was also revised: 100% sectoral for 2021 – 2032; and 85 % sectoral and 15% individual thereafter.

In addition to the above-mentioned CORSIA SARPs amendments, the ICAO Council reached important agreements towards safeguarding the environmental effectiveness of CORSIA and securing the availability of CORSIA eligible emissions units for future years. In particular, the Council approved:

  • The year 2021 as the starting year (also referred to as ‘vintage’) for all CORSIA eligible emissions units for use in the CORSIA first phase (2024-2026), in addition to the existing 2016 crediting start date. This approved vintage will cover units issued in respect of emissions reductions that occurred from 1 January 2021 through 31 December 2026 from eligible projects that have started issuing units after 1 January 2016; and
  • The American Carbon Registry and the Architecture for REDD+ Transactions as eligible programmes to supply CORSIA eligible emissions units for the CORSIA first phase (2024-2026).

In addition, the Council requested the CORSIA Technical Advisory Body (TAB) to undertake an assessment of the Paris Agreement Article 6.4 mechanism, including the transition of the Clean Development Mechanism for eligibility under the CORSIA. It additionally requested that the TAB expand its analysis of the potential supply of eligible emissions units for the CORSIA first phase.

To complete the second periodic review of CORSIA prior to the next ICAO Assembly in 2025, the 228th Session of the ICAO Council also requested CAEP to undertake work to support this process, building upon the 2022 CORSIA review and with a focus on the assessment of supply, demand, price, and cost impact of the CORSIA offsetting requirements.