France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Finland and Norway have said they may pull out out of a global carbon offsetting scheme for aircraft emissions if its environmental safeguards are weakened any further, documents released to Transport & Environment (T&E) show.

icao civil aviation

In separate letters to the UN aviation agency ICAO, the six governments state that if sustainability rules governing the use of offsets and alternative fuels are watered down any more in negotiations, they will reconsider their participation. T&E has also seen documents that suggest six other EU countries have similarly told ICAO that they will pull out of the scheme, known as CORSIA.

“... [I]f States were to question certain aspects of the compromise reached, particularly with regard to emission units and the sustainability of alternative fuels, the agreement given by France to this version of the text would be compromised,” France’s letter to ICAO states. Similar warnings were issued by the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Finland and Norway.

Last November countries meeting at ICAO agreed to almost entirely remove sustainability criteria for the jet biofuel to be recognised under the offsetting scheme, which will become the de facto global standard for biofuel use in the aviation sector. EU member states caved  in to pressure from Brazil, the US and others to slash the original 12 environmental and social safeguards down to just two. Rules on land rights, food security, labour rights and biodiversity protection were scrapped.

Andrew Murphy, aviation manager at T&E, said: “What started as a way to address aviation’s runaway emissions has, step by step, turned into yet another greenwashing exercise for the aviation industry. These countries are right to say they may walk away if it gets any worse, but in many respects, the damage is already done.”  

Further documents seen by T&E suggest that Germany, Poland, Romania, Portugal, Slovenia and Malta are also prepared to end their participation in CORSIA over the same environmental concerns. However, these states have yet to make their responses available to the public.

The letters also show European concern with the quality of offsets used, with all European states calling for a so-called ‘vintage restriction’. This would restrict offsets eligible under the scheme to those from projects created after 2016. With the global offset market awash with cheap and ineffective credits, this vintage restriction is a proven measure to keep out some of the worst credits created in the 2000s and early 2010s. While the letters do not state the countries’ red lines, a failure by ICAO to adopt a vintage restriction would further call into question the environmental integrity of the scheme.

The European Commission was unique in making its submission automatically public while the majority of ICAO countries are still refusing to submit their positions to public scrutiny. Other UN agencies, such as the UNFCCC, make such documents public as a matter of course. It highlights how ICAO’s process are shrouded in a level of secrecy unsuited to establishing effective environmental measures.

Andrew Murphy concluded: “States that have published their response should be applauded for their efforts to open up this cryptic process. It should not require such efforts to obtain relatively basic information, such as the position of EU member states on these draft offsetting and alternative fuel rules. We see a clear link between the near total lack of transparency and the continous weakening of environmental safeguards.”