Aviation Industry throws out climate agreement
statement from Annie Petsonk, International Counsel
(June 30, 2020) The 36-member Council of
the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) today unilaterally changed
the rules for the first three years of the agency’s flagship climate program,
the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation ().
The Council decided that if, in 2020, aviation emissions fall by more than 30%
below 2019 levels, the program’s rules will automatically change, in effect
suspending airlines’ obligations to offset a portion of their carbon pollution.
"The coronavirus pandemic has
caused pain and loss around the world – for families, for communities and for
working people. Airlines have been hit hard. One effect of the decrease in air
travel is that carbon emissions from aviation have declined sharply. And
now the industry is at an inflection point.
“As airlines scramble to recover from
the COVID-19 crisis, they can’t afford to ignore the looming global crisis of
climate change. Real leadership means setting the aviation sector on a path toward
net zero climate impacts as swiftly as possible. The sooner that the costs of
carbon control are included in the costs of doing business, the sooner new
technologies will be developed.
“Instead, ICAO’s Council decided to
backtrack on its commitment to ‘carbon neutral growth from 2020,’ so that
airlines need only offset emissions above 2019 levels for the first three years
of the program. If emissions do not rise above 2019 levels, airlines are
wholly excused from offset obligations.
“Changing baselines is a bad precedent
for the development of carbon markets in other countries and sectors.
Ironically, it means that airlines will lose the first-mover advantage they had
sought to secure through CORSIA, as other carbon market actors will beat them to
the punch on long-term supply contracts.
“With offset obligations likely
suspended for the pilot phase, today’s decision leaves the field wide open for
governments – at local, state and national levels – to require airlines to
integrate climate action into their economic recovery. That could, in turn,
leave the industry with the very patchwork of regulations it fears.
“That the Council decided to arrogate to
itself the authority to make this rule change, without consulting the full 190+
ICAO Member States that adopted CORSIA to begin with, sets a troubling
precedent for the legitimacy of future decision-making by the UN’s aviation
“Today’s Council decision does not alter
ICAO’s standards for carbon credits, including its March decision on credit eligibility,
or its rules for sustainable aviation fuels. These standards are important
precedents for the Paris Agreement and emerging legislation. As airlines try to
woo back customers concerned about both COVID-19 and carbon pollution, civil
society will hold airlines accountable to the CORSIA standards for fuels and
, International Counsel
The rules established for CORSIA in 2016
by ICAO’s 190+ country General Assembly required airlines, starting in 2021, to
offset emissions of international flights above a baseline set at the average
of 2019-2020 emissions. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) had the
ICAO Council to change the rules so airlines would only have to offset when
their pollution levels rise above 2019 levels, citing the unexpected slump in
aviation emissions in 2020 due to COVID-19, and the greater carbon offset
requirements that could result from the industry’s recovery.
Prior to the Council’s decision today, research had found that robust
implementation of CORSIA could significantly reduce international aviation’s
warming impact, and that the associated future warming from the carbon
emissions of international aviation may be reduced by roughly 90 percent if the
sector pursues further decarbonization by mid- or end-of-century.
For more on CORSIA, visit
edf.org/aviation. Read our latest aviation blogs at .
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