China backs out of international deal to curb aircraft emissions

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China has cooled on a landmark deal to curb emissions from international flights, with the country no longer listed as a participant in the agreement’s first phase, according to the United Nations aviation agency’s website.

China does not appear on a June 29 list of participants in the voluntary phase of the deal brokered by the International Civil Aviation Organisation in 2016, according to ICAO’s website.

Aviation powerhouse China was included in previous lists seen by Reuters. It is not clear why China now objects to the deal. The pilot phase begins in 2021.

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Environmentalists say China’s participation is vital for the 2016 Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) deal, which requires airlines to limit their emissions or offset them by buying carbon credits from designated environmental projects around the world.

Europe will press China to remain, after the country recently argued it never agreed to join the first phase, according to sources who spoke on condition of anonymity about the private talks.

“In the months to come, Europe together with its ICAO partners, will work with China to find ways to address China’s concerns without undermining (the deal’s) environmental integrity to keep this important aviation country on board,” a European Union source said on Tuesday.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China and ICAO did not respond to requests for comment by Reuters.

In 2016, China and the United States pledged support for the deal, with both countries saying they expect “to be early participants.”

A second source said China is likely distancing itself as a negotiating tactic. Talks are expected this autumn over which environmental projects will be available to airlines for purchase as offset credits.

China wants its domestic projects to be eligible, the source said.

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The United States, which last year announced plans to withdraw from the Paris climate pact, is still in the aviation deal and the Federal Aviation Administration said it would continue to work “on the implementation of CORSIA.”

Airlines support the agreement as a cheaper alternative to a patchwork of regional deals. Citing ICAO figures, the Air Transport Action Group estimates CORSIA will cost airlines between US$1.5 billion and US$6.2 billion in 2025, depending on future carbon prices.

“We are disappointed that the Chinese government has decided not to participate in the pilot phase of CORSIA,” said ATAG executive director Michael Gill in a statement.

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