The United Nations aviation agency has allowed corporate interests to influence the direction of its climate policy, say environmental groups, pointing to new research that finds nearly one-third of delegates at its environmental committee meetings come from aviation or fossil fuel industries.
And the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection (CAEP) “appears to adopt numerous concerning transparency practices that are not replicated in other major UN climate negotiation forums,” says InfluenceMap.
“These include requiring delegates to sign non-disclosure agreements to participate, and prohibiting the media from attending key climate negotiations.”
InfluenceMap’s study found the aviation industry had “outsized influence over global climate rules” and a “significant opportunity” to influence ICAO climate negotiations—free from public scrutiny—with more than 30% of delegates coming from the fossil or aviation industry since the adoption of the 2015 Paris agreement. They outnumbered environmental delegates by more than seven to one, the study found.
ICAO also appears to draw from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), an organization that represents the airline industry, when crafting legislation, Influence Map says. IATA “seemed to have first proposed a similar measure to, and subsequently helped develop, and later propose weakening, ICAO’s main climate rule—the CORSIA offsetting scheme, which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has since confirmed ‘does not lead to a reduction in in-sector emissions’ from aviation.”
The ICAO was designated by the 1997 Kyoto Protocol to govern carbon emissions from the aviation sector, and continues to be the primary entity responsible for its mitigation actions. Because of the ICAO’s presumed authority (and responding to the industry’s intensive lobbying), signatories of the 2015 Paris agreement did not explicitly include the aviation industry under oversight of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). But ICAO has since faced criticism for failing to commit to targets that align with the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C—and international aviation emissions are expected to double or triple between 2019 and 2050.
ICAO is currently meeting in Montreal for its 41st general assembly to make plans for achieving emissions reduction targets. Delegates expect to discuss three emissions scenarios, but none of them are anywhere near Paris compatible, says Climate Action Tracker.
“There seems no real will in the aviation sector to reduce their own emissions to anything like zero, despite the Paris agreement being clear that all sectors need to do so,” said Silke Mooldijk from Climate Action Tracker’s partner organization, NewClimate Institute.
The Climate Action Tracker analysis finds the aviation industry will need to reduce emissions 90% from 2019 levels before 2050 to align with Paris goals. But even the most effective scenario available would only cut emissions 70%, while the least ambitious would allow them to increase by 50%. Measured against Climate Action Tracker’s 1.5°C rating scale, this outcome would register as either “highly insufficient” or “critically insufficient,” aligning with global warming levels of at least 3°C, and possibly even 4°C.
An important part of ICAO’s plan to slash emissions is its Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA). But Climate Action Tracker says CORSIA’s rules are weak and lack environmental integrity. For instance, though CORSIA calls for using fuels that generate 10% fewer emissions than standard aviation fuels, the rule could potentially allow for a wide range of fossil fuels to be deemed eligible.
Transport & Environment (T&E) has also criticized the scheme, which adds a carbon offset charge of only €2.40 (C$3.23) to the price of an average Europe-United States flight in 2030, and €2 (C$2.69) to a London-New York flight.
Offsetting is “a climate fraud perpetrated by an industry resisting real climate action,” said T&E aviation director Jo Dardenne. “Paying €2 to fly ‘guilt-free’ to New York is a climate absurdity.” According to T&E calculations, CORSIA would offset 8.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide for all the flights from Europe to the U.S. in 2030, but emissions are predicted to reach 23.5 million tonnes just from the growth in air traffic.
And CORSIA, by its nature, “does not lead to a reduction in in-sector emissions from aviation since the program deals mostly in approved offsets,” found the IPCC.
Even some airline CEOs have criticized the industry’s focus on offsetting to decarbonize the sector, notes InfluenceMap. Etihad CEO Tony Douglas said offsetting is “a short-term stopgap if you haven’t got a more sustainable alternative, but it’s cheating,” while United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby confessed that “the truth is that carbon offsets, most of them, aren’t even real.”