By Julia Fioretti
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European countries are pushing back against any weakening of the rules underpinning a landmark global agreement to cap airline emissions at 2020 levels, especially those related to the types of aviation biofuels that can be used.
France, Norway, Finland, Belgium, Austria and the Netherlands have written to the U.N. aviation agency, which brokered the 2016 deal, to say they would have to reconsider their support should the compromise be weakened.
This related particularly to criteria for the sustainability of alternative fuels and the carbon credits used to offset CO2 emissions, according to documents seen by Reuters.
Countries at the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) are seeking to agree on rules that will govern how the overall deal, known as the Carbon Offset and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), will be implemented. They meet next week to try to find a compromise.
“If some countries were to call into question certain aspects of the compromise, notably with regards to the emissions units and the sustainability of alternative fuels, the support given by France to this version of the text would be compromised,” France wrote in a letter to ICAO.
Aviation biofuels, now produced in small volumes from renewable sources, are expected to play an important role in delivering the goal of carbon-neutral growth in airline CO2 emissions from 2020.
But objections from several developing countries meant that the criteria for sustainable biofuels were provisionally scaled down to two from 12 originally.
The two remaining criteria ensure aviation biofuels are not produced on land from razed forests or wetlands, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 10 percent compared with conventional jet fuel.
But the Netherlands said in its letter that those criteria were “not sufficient to ensure environmental integrity and sustainability of aviation alternative fuels.”
A source familiar with the matter said he does not believe the European countries would abandon CORSIA and relinquish their “voice at the table.” He said some developing countries were concerned that if the standards were too strict it would prevent them from building their own biojet fuel industries on agricultural land.
“If you say that biofuel can’t displace crops then you have to go into the forest, but you can’t go into the forest,” said the source who spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks are confidential. “So where do I grow? In the sea?”
In addition the six countries are pushing for strict rules on the carbon credits that airlines will have to purchase from environmental projects to offset their emissions.
“The programs and projects should represent real, additional, permanent and verified reductions of greenhouse gases that are accounted for only once towards any climate mitigation or voluntary action,” Norway wrote in its letter to ICAO, adding that eligible projects should only be those that start after the end of 2019.
The airline industry has supported a single global deal over a patchwork of regional measures, like the EU’s Emissions Trading System, and in February called on governments to approve the rules that will govern how CORSIA is implemented.
(Reporting by Julia Fioretti, additional reporting by Allison Lampert in MONTREAL; Editing by Richard Balmforth)