A man cycles past the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) headquarters building in Montreal, Quebec, Canada June…
FILE - A man cycles past the International Civil Aviation Organization headquarters building in Montreal, Quebec, June 15, 2017.

MONTREAL - The United Nations' aviation agency has approved restrictions for a global program designed to help airlines offset their carbon emissions, a move that curbs industry funding for older projects whose environmental benefits have been challenged by climate activists.

The International Civil Aviation Organization council on Friday approved recommendations to exclude offset projects begun before 2016 while delivering emission reductions through the end of 2020, ICAO said in a statement.

ICAO cannot impose rules but sets standards approved by its 193 member countries. Its 36-member council was tasked with weighing which programs would be eligible under the venture for airlines, known as the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA).

The council's decision to accept credits from six programs for CORSIA's pilot phase from 2021 to 2023 came despite protests from Brazil, China and India, which wanted older projects to be eligible, said two sources who discussed the private talks on condition of anonymity.

Developing countries had hoped a global push by airlines to offset emissions would mop up a glut of carbon credits awarded under earlier climate initiatives.

One of the six programs is the United Nations' Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), the world's largest offset scheme, set up under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol to help fund emissions reductions in developing countries.

Looking for balance

The fate of billions of older CDM credits, the majority of which come from China and India, was a thorny and unresolved issue for climate negotiators in Madrid in December, raising the stakes for ICAO.

ICAO was under pressure to strike a balance between approving enough credit options for airlines to purchase under the plan without squashing supply, which could push up prices.

Some environmentalists feared the council would approve weaker standards to help airlines hit hard by the global outbreak of a novel coronavirus that has led carriers
to seek urgent government financial support.

“The council’s decision today sends a signal that when we get to the other side of the gut-punch that COVID-19 is delivering to families, communities and the whole travel
sector, nations will move forward to meet the climate challenge," said Annie Petsonk, international counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund.

Aviation accounts for just over 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions, but with air traffic forecast to grow in coming decades, that percentage would rise if left unchecked.