In October 2016, The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) created the CORSIA (Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation) framework. Currently 87 countries representing about 77 per cent of international aviation emissions have joined the initial three-year pilot scheme (2021-23) followed by a three-year voluntary scheme (2024-26). By 2027 CORSIA will be mandatory.
CORSIA works by setting a baseline of emissions – if the airline overshoots this they must buy equivalent carbon offsets. The hope is that this will incentivise airlines to be more efficient and it will inject more money into offset schemes. But will this really work? Originally, the baseline was to be calculated from a combination of 2019 and 2020 emissions, but the pandemic meant that airlines flew far less in 2020, so emissions were much lower. By starting at the higher 2019 baseline, the CORSIA scheme won’t kick off for at least 3 years, until the aviation sector recovers from the covid crisis. This in effect will be a disincentive for airlines to cut their carbon emissions.
A recent study (June 2021) commissioned by the European Commission came up with a number of controversial findings:
- CORSIA is actually a damaging option for the environment as it leads to the biggest global increase in aviation CO2 emissions.
- None of the offsetting programmes approved under CORSIA meet all the required criteria and a large share of existing projects are delivering emission reductions in sectors that are already covered by their respective country’s current climate targets and are double counted.
- CORSIA will have an oversupply of cheap (less than 1€) 1 carbon offset credits, worsened by ICAO’s decision to change its baseline due to COVID19, which implies the price signal faced by airlines under the scheme will never provide any financial incentives for them to reduce emissions.
- Aviation markets like China, Russia, India, Brazil, and Vietnam remain out of the scheme and some big markets such as the US don’t yet have binding regulation to implement it, which further damages the scheme’s ability to neutralise aviation’s emissions growth. CORSIA would only cover approximately 35% of global aviation CO2 emissions.
- Countries are not obliged to publish the final offsetting requirements of its airline operators, meaning there is no way of checking whether they are actually implementing CORSIA.
In summary, this raises some fundamental questions over the way forward for the aviation industry in its attempts to reduce carbon emissions, not least over whether governments should put a hard cap on aviation emissions and include them within the scope of overall climate targets. There are a range of other climate policy options which could be implemented to encourage the uptake of clean fuels and zero emissions aircrafts, such as introducing kerosene taxation and deploying sustainable fuel mandates, focusing on e-kerosene. Clearly a lot more needs to be done to help the aviation industry reach its “aspirational goal” to make all growth in international flights after 2020 “carbon neutral”.
Source: Foundation for Future Supply Chain, August 17, 2021
Author: Julia Swales