Aviation opts for offsets to curb emissions

3rd November 2016

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Andrew Wharton

A deal to halt the growth in carbon emissions from international flights has been agreed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

Under the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), any increase above average baseline emissions in 2019 and 2020 will be offset.

Aviation contributes to around 2% of annual carbon emissions and, with levels of global air traffic forecast to rise by 5% a year, so-called ‘carbon neutral growth from 2020’ between 142 and 174 million tonnes of CO2 should be offset in 2025, and between 443 and 596 million tonnes in 2035.

The ICAO said offsetting could cost the industry up to $23.9bn or 1.4% of total revenues from international aviation in 2035, although the actual amount will depend on carbon prices.

Sixty-six countries, covering more than 86% of global aviation activity, have agreed to participate in CORSIA from the outset. It will begin with a pilot phase between 2021 and 2023, with the first phase starting in 2024. Both phases will be voluntary. Most countries will have to join phase two, from 2027 to 2035. Under the scheme, one emissions unit represents one tonne of carbon.

There are two main types of emissions units: offset credits from crediting mechanisms and allowances from emissions trading systems. Around 80% of the emissions above 2020 levels will be offset by CORSIA between 2021 and 2035.

Tim Alderslade, chief executive of the British Air Transport Association, the trade body for UK airlines, said the scheme would play a pivotal role in enabling UK aviation to meet its goal of achieving carbon-neutral growth from 2020, and halving net emissions by 2050.

Conservation group WWF welcomed the ICAO deal, but called for more action. ‘We are far from the finish line in curbing carbon pollution from international aviation. This is the starting block. It’s a foundation we must build on over time,’ said Lou Leonard, interim deputy leader for the NGO’s global climate and energy practice.

The European Commission also endorsed the agreement and said it would consider what changes the deal would require of the EU emissions trading system (ETS). Since the start of 2012 emissions from all flights from, to and within the European Economic Area (EEA) have been included in the ETS. Flights to and from non-European countries were exempted from the system to allow the ICAO to agree its own market-based approach to tackle aviation emissions.


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