BY SARA LEWIS, in Brussels OCTOBER'S ground-breaking deal in the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to curb global aviation emissions growth after 2020 through a global market-based measure (GMBM) is facing major challenges in the months ahead to gain political acceptance in both the European Union (EU) and the United States.

Under the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), which is voluntary from 2024 to 2026, then mandatory for all ICAO member states 2027 to 2035, apart from certain exemptions, airlines will buy emissions units representing 1 tonne of carbon dioxide (CO2) from green projects to offset excess CO2 above 2020 levels.

CORSIA was spawned as a reaction to the EU’s extension of its emissions trading scheme (ETS) to cover aviation, including intercontinental as well as flights within Europe, leading to protests from other countries and the global aviation industry. But with a promise to develop a global scheme to curb aviation emissions under ICAO, the EU adopted its so-called ‘stop-the-clock’ legislation in 2014, suspending ETS application to intercontinental flights up to the end of last year, thereby giving the international community a 2016 deadline for action.

The European Commission on February 3 proposed extending the freeze on ETS coverage of flights in and out of the EU indefinitely, backdated to January 1, 2017. Further proposals to apply CORSIA in the EU and adapt ETS will follow in about 18 months, a Commission spokesperson told Janes’ Airport Review, “once there is more visibility” on details that are being worked out in ICAO.

But, the final say on both the February 3 and future proposals goes to the EU’s co-legislators, the European Parliament and Council of Ministers representing member states. Its governments are unlikely to object to permanent clock-stop, as all 28 member states signed up to CORSIA, since they speak as individuals in ICAO and not as an EU bloc. The parliament, however, is a different matter as it has been a driving force in getting ETS to cover aviation. The two schemes are very different: contrary to the ETS, which is a ‘cap and trade’ scheme, CORSIA is an ‘offsetting scheme’ implying that emissions can grow as long as they are compensated by offsets, and this is the problem for many members of the European Parliament (MEPs).

German centre right MEP, Peter Liese, who drafted the parliament’s position on previous aviation legislation, argued in a February 3 statement that CORSIA “is still burdened with many questions and is by no means ambitious”. Dr Liese called the proposal to exclude intercontinental flights from ETS permanently “problematic” and proposed a compromise: “We should continue to exempt intercontinental flights until 2021, but then reinstate them if the ICAO rules are not clear”.

Despite this, in a February 16 plenary vote on an aviation strategy for Europe, the parliament already backed an extension of the clock-stop and “welcomes the Commission’s intention to review the EU’s measures to reduce CO2 emissions from aviation in light of this [CORSIA] agreement”.

Moreover, while the United States signed CORSIA on November 3 that was under the outgoing Obama administration and since President Donald Trump took office on January 20, many climate change measures have been jettisoned by the US government. Trump’s choice to head up the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt, while stepping back from previous denials, told a confirmatory hearing that climate change exists but the manmade element was uncertain. Neither the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) nor the EPA had responded to Jane’s Airport Review requests for comments on Trump’s plans for aviation emissions before press time.

Even without the political challenges, CORSIA was only the start of a lengthy process. Implementation of the CORSIA kicks off with ICAO developing by 2018 a series of standards and recommended practices (SARPS) – rules and regulations to apply the agreement in practice – and related guidance for both a Monitoring, Reporting and Verification (MRV) system and Emissions Unit Criteria (EUC). ICAO also has to produce guidance to help set up registries and allow member states to start using the MRV system from 1 January 2019. An ICAO spokesperson explained: “ICAO is organising seminars in all regions, from March to April 2017, providing states with training, and facilitating financial support where needed to ensure that they are ready to implement CORSIA.”

Haldane Dodd, communications head for Geneva-based industry association the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG), told Jane’s Airport Review: “Since the historic agreement was reached in October, there has been significant work underway by ICAO, governments and industry to determine the operationalisation details of the CORSIA.” Dodd explained: “These task forces are working to finalise the criteria for emissions units that can be used for the CORSIA; and the metrics used for monitoring, reporting and verification in the scheme – everything that is needed to allow the CORSIA to start operations.”

And as Dodd noted: “Although the scheme does not kick in until after 2020, a lot of the monitoring work will need to start with airlines and governments in the next couple of years. This is why ATAG and [the International Air Transport Association] IATA are working with ICAO and others over the course of the next few months on capacity building workshops, to ensure the industry is prepared once the details are finalised to get on with the implementation.”

Of course, compliance will only be mandatory for ICAO member states in the second phase, but Dodd stressed to Jane’s Airport Review: “We are also going to be encouraging more states to sign up to volunteer for the first phases, beyond the 66 which have done so already!”