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China Withdraws from First Round of Aviation Emissions Reduction Plan

China appears to have withdrawn from the first, voluntary phase of a plan to put a brake on greenhouse gas emissions from international aviation. The initial pilot phase of the plan goes into effect in 2021.

While Europe is pressing China to stay in the deal, China is claiming it never agreed to participate in the first place, Reuters reports, citing sources close to the private negotiations.

“In the months to come, Europe together with its ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) partners, will work with China to find ways to address China’s concerns without undermining (the deal’s) environmental integrity, in order to keep this important aviation country on board,” an EU source told the news agency.

But at this point, “we are disappointed that the Chinese government has decided not to participate in the pilot phase of CORSIA,” said Michael Gill, executive director of the Air Transport Action Group.

“Environmentalists say China’s participation is vital for the 2016 Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) deal, which requires airlines to limit their emissions or offset them by buying carbon credits from designated environmental projects around the world,” Reuters notes. China and the United States both stepped up as “early participants” in the deal in 2016, and while the Trump administration has since given notice that it will pull the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration says it’s still working on CORSIA implementation.

The news agency previously reported that an ICAO meeting in Montreal in late June had agreed on the detailed standards airlines would need to implement CORSIA. “This now allows governments and industry to make final preparations for implementation before the CO2 emissions monitoring and reporting obligations commence in January 2019,” Gill said at the time.

“The new standards, approved by a majority of ICAO’s 36-member governing council, including the United States, give governments a technical guide on how to compile airlines’ emissions and how much the carriers will need to offset,” Reuters wrote. “Complying with the agreement is estimated to cost airlines less than 2% of industry revenue. The deal is voluntary for the first five years and becomes mandatory from 2027 for the world’s largest emitters.”

At the end of the ICAO meeting, the EU’s transport and climate commissioners, Violeta Bulc and Miguel Arias Cañete, declared themselves pleased to see the initial rules in place, noting that further standards for biofuels and carbon offsets were to be finalized by the end of the year. “The EU will continue to push for robust and effective rules,” they said in a statement. “Participation and implementation by all states around the world will be fundamental for the system to deliver on its objectives.”

Annie Petsonk, international council at the U.S. Environmental Defense Fund, called the late June decision “a significant step”, but warned that “much work remains to be done before the end of the year to ensure that CORSIA as implemented actually delivers the anticipated environmental benefits. There are potential devils lurking in the details,” and coordination between ICAO and the UN climate secretariat will be needed “to ensure consistency between the two international agreements and prevent double-dipping with regard to carbon offsets and alternative fuel credits.”

Carbon Market Watch was also concerned about the items that had still been left open for discussion. “The draft rules as they stand provide a good basis to avoid past mistakes of offsetting systems, where the majority of credits have made little to no impact in curtailing pollution levels,” said Transport Policy Officer Kelsey Perlman. But “a delay of this decision could be dangerous if it means watering down these rules to allow substandard offset projects into the scheme.”