According to WWF-UK, its newly commissioned research shows that there is no need for airlines to use any measures with poor performance on emissions or risks to sustainable development.
The research comes as the International Air Transport Association (IATA) is discussing climate change at its AGM in Dublin.
WWF notes that although the 2015 Paris Agreement did not explicitly mention aviation, it claims that emissions in the sector are growing fast and must be reduced to keep global warming “well below 2°C”.
This autumn the UN International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) will decide in on key features of a global market-based measure (MBM) to cap CO2 emissions from international flights at 2020 levels.
One key issue for ICAO is the sustainability of the measures to be credited under the scheme, which is why WWF-UK commissioned the Stockholm Environment Institute to look into supply and sustainability of carbon credits and alternative fuels for aviation.
The analysis found that there could be enough sustainable biofuel and high quality credits to satisfy up to 73% of ICAO’s higher demand forecast for emissions reductions (4.5 Gt CO2e) or 100% of its lower demand forecast (3.3 Gt CO2e).
This includes 0.1-0.3 Gt of reductions from sustainable biofuels, and up to 3.0 Gt from high quality carbon credits that support sustainable development.
WWF insists that any shortfall in emissions reductions could be met either through greater action on efficiency, or from carbon project types where certification is essential to ensure that the promised emissions reductions are achieved, and/or any sustainable development risks are avoided.
It is calling for ICAO to send a clear signal in its Assembly Resolution that the MBM will only recognise carbon credits and alternative fuels that achieve real emissions reductions and promote sustainable development, and to finalise detailed sustainability rules as soon as possible.
WWF-UK CEO David Nussbaum said: “As the world unites to fight climate change, the aviation industry has a responsibility to contribute its fair share of the effort.
"To future-proof themselves and safeguard their brand reputation, airlines should commit to using only high-quality carbon credits and sustainable alternative fuels, that avoid damaging side effects on emissions or sustainable development.
“ICAO must make it clear that carbon projects in the fossil fuel sector and conventional crop-based biofuels are not the answer, and should finalise binding sustainability criteria for both credits and fuels as soon as possible after the 2016 Assembly.”
Carbon credits and alternative fuels should both reduce emissions and support sustainable development, it notes.
Examples include biogas carbon projects, which turn organic waste into green gas for heating and cooking, and waste-based biofuels that avoid negative land use impacts.
But, according to WWF, some fail to achieve the emissions reductions they promise and can pose risks to sustainable development.
It states: "For example, some carbon projects in the energy sector perpetuate reliance on fossil fuels and hold back the transition to clean, renewable energy, while many conventional crop-based biofuels have damaging land use impacts on emissions, habitats and food security."
ICAO’s 191 Member States will decide on the MBM proposals at its next Assembly in September/October 2016. The MBM should come into full force in 2020.