The European Commission confirmed on Friday EU countries will take part in a carbon offsetting scheme for flights next decade.
In a bid to revive the “high ambition coalition” of developed and climate vulnerable countries that pushed for a strong Paris Agreement, Brussels issued a joint statement with Mexico and the Marshall Islands.
They pledged support for an “ambitious and robust” global market-based measure to curb aviation emissions after 2020. Due to be signed off at an International Civil Aviation Organization summit in Montreal later next month, the latest proposals make participation optional for the first six years.
Singapore, a major aviation hub, has declared its intent to join in from day one, as has Indonesia. The US and China also “expect to be early participants”, according to a joint statement issued at the G20.
Several major growth markets are not so keen, however. Brazil will only take part from 2027, when it becomes mandatory, an official told Bloomberg. Russia, South Africa, Japan, Korea and the UAE have not shown their hand.
Aviation accounts for some 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions and rising. Incremental efficiency improvements and cleaner fuels are lagging behind surging demand for air travel.
The industry has committed to carbon neutral growth from 2020. With limited options to cut their own carbon footprint, airlines are prepared to pay for reductions in other sectors to close the gap.
The International Coalition for Sustainable Aviation warns that extensive caveats risk undermining the environmental benefits. Dan Rutherford of the International Council on Clean Transportation said in a briefing call on Thursday existing commitments only covered 68% of projected emissions growth 2020-35. Widespread participation would push that to 76%.
A separate group of 80 NGOs, including Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and Fern, opposes carbon offsetting altogether. They highlight problems with the sustainability and credibility of offsets based on forest protection.
Hannah Mowat, campaigner with Fern, said: “The very notion of carbon offsetting – which is at the heart of the ICAO deal – undermines the purpose of the high ambition coalition (to limit warming to 1.5 degrees) since offsetting does not reduce emissions.”