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Groups want forests to help mitigate the climate damage from your next flight

  • The aviation industry has set itself the goal of peaking emissions by 2020 and achieving carbon neutral growth from there on out.
  • Environmental groups say that even with proposed efficiency upgrades, the international aviation industry is likely to fall short of its emissions reductions targets by as much as 7.8 billion metric tons of CO2.
  • The groups argue that forest conservation efforts that are part of the UN’s REDD+ initiative could help close that gap.

If the global aviation industry was its own country, it would rank amongst the top 10 emitters of climate pollution in the world. But nine environmental organizations say that the UN’s program for reducing emissions from deforestation could help change that.

The groups, which include Conservation International, Environmental Defense Fund, Forest Trends, Global Canopy Programme, and Wildlife Conservation Society, among others, have released a report detailing how the UN’s REDD+ initiative, which aims to channel international financing to programs that protect forests and their role as a vital carbon sink, could help the aviation industry meet its emissions reduction targets.

The report was timed to coincide with a meeting in the Netherlands of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the UN body that sets standards for international flights.

The aviation industry has set itself the goal of peaking emissions by 2020 and achieving carbon neutral growth from there on out. Countries at the ICAO meeting are attempting to finalize a global market-based measure (MBM) to help the international aviation sector achieve those emission reduction targets, and a major topic of discussion is what types of activities should be made eligible by the MBM.

“Even with proposed operational and aircraft efficiency improvements, the increasing demand for air travel would leave the international aviation industry falling short of meeting its post-2020 emission reduction commitments with a gap of 7.8 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide,” the groups said in a statement accompanying the report.

Aerial view of the Sumatran rainforest. Photo by Rhett Butler.

In order to close that gap, they are urging ICAO to allow REDD+ as an eligible activity under the final MBM. The REDD+ program was officially enshrined in the Paris climate agreement as a standalone article, signaling its importance in global efforts to combat climate change.

“A commitment by ICAO and the aviation industry to offset aviation carbon emissions through the protection of forests would underscore the remarkable impact of the Paris Agreement,” Peter Seligmann, CEO of Conservation International, said in a statement. “Through this measure, the aviation sector can lead the world in financing the protection of tropical forests, which together provide 30% or more of the solution to climate change while simultaneously providing benefits to local communities.”

The London-based Climate Markets and Investment Association (CMIA), a climate finance trade association, is also recommending ICAO allow REDD+ as an emissions-reduction tool, calling it a “win-win solution for international aviation.”

CMIA argues that REDD+ and the aviation sector are actually a “natural fit,” given the international nature of the industry, which puts it in an ideal position to invest in large, cross-border projects that aim to halt deforestation and forest degradation.

And since REDD+ schemes have already been deployed in dozens of countries for the past decade, “A prompt start is guaranteed — no ‘learning by doing’ is required,” CMIA argued in a position paper on the topic. “ICAO could build on the existing REDD+ market infrastructure (availability of technical and financial expertise, verification services, etc.) and an existing project pipeline.”

Christina Elvers, who co-chairs CMIA’s Forestry, Land-Use and Voluntary Markets Forum, said in a statement that “it’s vital that ICAO maintains the momentum on climate action following the Paris [climate talks]. We hope they and the aviation industry generally will consider very seriously the opportunities that forest projects can offer them to invest in good-quality emissions reductions projects.”