COP26 – Pressure on ICAO To Develop a Net Zero Carbon Plan

With recent commitments by the aviation sector to achieving net zero emissions by 2050 and pressure from both industry and an increasing number of states for a global long-term emissions target to be agreed at next year’s ICAO Assembly, there was plenty to discuss at COP26. Responsibility for emissions from international aviation was handed over to ICAO nearly a quarter of a century ago and countries are not required to include them in their Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Agreement. However, recent legal analysis suggests states do have an obligation to include aviation and shipping emissions in their reduction plans.

The message is getting through to states that the next ICAO Assembly in October 2022 must reach an agreement that brings aviation into line with the Paris temperature goal. To coincide with COP26’s Transport Day, 20 countries participated in the inaugural meeting of the International Aviation Climate Ambition Coalition (IACAC), issuing a declaration at a UK Presidency event. They agreed to work together, “both through ICAO and other complementary cooperative initiatives, to advance ambitious actions to reduce aviation CO2 emissions at a rate consistent with efforts to limit the global average temperature increase to 1.5C.”

Major aviation countries like France, the United Kingdom and the United States have joined the coalition but the UK has been careful not to overload it with countries from the developed world to ensure a broad global representation. More countries are expected to join the coalition in the run-up to the ICAO 41st Assembly. Since the declaration was first published, the number of states now stands at 24.

Among a range of joint commitments, the countries agreed to support the adoption of an “ambitious” long-term aspirational goal consistent with 1.5C “and in view of the industry’s commitments towards net zero CO2 emissions by 2050.”

Having long opposed meaningful climate action at ICAO, it is highly unlikely the BRIC nations – Brazil, Russia, India and China – will join the coalition or support a net zero by 2050 goal at the Assembly.

Another important issue to be considered by ICAO during 2022 is a review of ICAO’s CORSIA carbon offsetting scheme. The coalition partners agreed to support efforts at ICAO to implement and strengthen CORSIA by expanding member state participation in the carbon offsetting scheme, taking steps by states to domestically implement the necessary CORSIA regulations, advance the environmental ambition of CORSIA through the periodic reviews and working to ensure double counting of CORSIA eligible units is avoided.

Ensuring avoidance of double counting appears to have been dealt with at COP26. An important achievement was resolving differences and uncertainties over Article 6 of the Paris Agreement that provides for market and non-market mechanisms for countries and non-state participants to meet emission reduction targets. According to carbon markets body IETA, decisions on double-counting avoidance and other environmental integrity fundamentals will provide a boost in confidence to airline investors and CORSIA.

One less positive outcome of the Article 6 negotiations was a compromise that allows a carry-over of credits left from the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism, established under the Kyoto Protocol, to a new crediting system, although their use is restricted to the first cycle of national commitments. Without the restrictions though, more than 4 billion credits could have been carried over.

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