‘Final blow’ to aviation climate plan as EU agrees to weaken rules

There had been hopes that the EU would insist on keeping more effective means of reducing carbon emitted by airlines. The current proposals by ICAO, in their CORSIA scheme, are too weak to be effective. The EU now say they will back the CORSIA scheme, which means watering down the rules.  Airlines want the baseline period, from which to measure airline carbon emissions for the CORSIA scheme, to be the two years, 2019 and 2020. But 2020 is going to be a year of atypically low airline activity. So they want the base line period to be just 2019. That means giving airlines a free pass to pollute for the next 3 to 6 years depending on the speed of the Covid recovery. That is what the EU has now agreed to, having initially stood out against it. So airlines could save $15 billion in carbon offsetting costs, paying nothing till 2024. This weakening of the scheme would further damage the credibility of the CORSIA offsetting scheme, which is widely regarded as weak and not aligned with the Paris Agreement goals. It will now become essentially meaningless.  The ineffective CORSIA scheme undermines many governments’ stated intentions to bolster climate ambition. 


‘Final blow’ to aviation climate plan as EU agrees to weaken rules

9th June 2020 (Climate Change News)

EU member states will back an industry proposal to reduce airlines’ climate obligations in response to the coronavirus pandemic, at the UN aviation forum

By Chloé Farand

The climate plan for aviation is losing its last shred of credibility, after the European Union confirmed it will back an industry proposal to water down the rules, campaigners have warned.

In the wake of the global coronavirus pandemic, the International Air Transport Association (Iata), called on the UN body responsible for aviation to ease airlines’ obligations to offset their emissions growth under a scheme known as Corsia.

Iata urged the International Civil Aviation Organisation (Icao) to change the baseline from which emissions growth will be measured – a move it estimates could save airlines $15 billion in carbon offsetting costs.

At a time when the industry is reeling from grounded flights due to Covid-19, airlines argue current rules risk creating “an inappropriate economic burden on the sector”.

On Tuesday, EU member states backed the baseline change, which could see airlines pay nothing for their climate impact until 2024.

France, Germany, Italy, the UK, Finland, the Netherlands, Spain and Greece will speak in favour of the adjustment at a meeting of Icao’s council this week. That means the rule change could win majority support.

Campaigners say it would further damage the credibility of the offsetting scheme, which is widely regarded as weak and not aligned with the Paris Agreement goals.

“This could be the final blow for Corsia,” Gilles Dufrasne, senior policy officer at Carbon Market Watch told Climate Home News. “It was always a ridiculously weak system, but now it is becoming essentially meaningless. Airlines are just let off the hook one more time.”

Airlines could get free pass on climate for five years under industry proposal

Member states of Icao have agreed to offset all growth in aviation emissions from 2020. With few technological solutions currently available to reduce planes’ pollution, airlines were expected to fund emissions cuts in other sectors, under a carbon market called Corsia.

The agreed baseline for measuring emissions was to be the two-year average across 2019 and 2020. But with 2020 turning into a year of anomalously low air travel because of restrictions to contain the spread of Covid-19, airlines have proposed to measure from pre-pandemic levels in 2019.

Analysis by the Öko-Institut in Germany found that changing the baseline to 2019 could give airlines a free pass to pollute for the next three to six years depending on the speed of the recovery.

A study by the US-based Environmental Defense Fund found similar results.

Observers to the UN aviation talks argue the baseline change isn’t needed because offsets are already very cheap. An existing flexibility provision built in Corsia could be used by airlines to delay their offsetting obligations and limit additional financial costs.

Jo Dardenne, aviation manager at NGO Transport & Environnent, told CHN the change in baseline meant “we’re going from a cheap offsetting scheme to no scheme at all”.

“The aviation sector is clearly using the Covid-19 crisis to dilute the environmental effectiveness of a scheme that was already expected to bring little to zero environmental benefits,” she said.

For Tim Johnson, director of the Aviation Environment Federation, the baseline change will undermine many governments’ stated intentions to bolster climate ambition.

Airlines have managed to get what they wanted from governments, Dufrasne added. Governments, including in the EU, are handing out multi-billion relief packages to airlines “with virtually no climate conditions while also agreeing to industry demands to weaken the already insufficient climate policies in place,” he said. “They are exploiting the crisis.”

Oleg Butković, minister for transport and infrastructure in Croatia, which holds the EU Council rotating presidency, said in a statement that the baseline change was “crucial to maintaining a similar level of ambition for the scheme” while taking into account airlines’ difficult circumstances.

But the move did not receive blanket support inside the EU. Sweden did not support the rule change. And a cross-party group of European lawmakers from the Parliament’s environment committee called for the average 2019-2020 baseline to be maintained until a planned review in 2022, when the shape of the sector’s recovery will be clearer.

Among them Bas Eickhout, a Green MEP, told CHN in an email: “Corsia is already extremely weak, the change that Iata pursues makes it even worse. Weakening Corsia now in such a substantial way will be nearly impossible to correct later,” he said.

French MEP Pascal Canfin, chair of the environment committee, added the EU will need to work to readdress the issue at the next Corsia review in 2022. “The EU should be leading on emission regulation, not watering down the ambition,” he said.

See also, about ICAO:

Aviation’s black box: Non-disclosure agreements, closed doors and rising CO2

The 36 members of the Icao Council, which includes the world’s largest air travel manufacturing and infrastructure nations, are expected to take a position on the issue this week.

Besides European countries, the US and the Latin American Civil Aviation Commission are also supporting the rule change, according to Reuters. Any decision taken by the council requires a majority of at least 19 countries.

However Annie Petsonk, aviation expert at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), said the council was not legally entitled to change the rules of the climate deal that was agreed by 193 countries at Icao’s Assembly in 2016. Instead, Icao’s assembly would need to approve any recommendations to change the rules for offsetting emissions.

If a decision was taken by the council, “this will deal a triple whammy” to Icao’s climate credibility, she told CHN: airlines will be given a free pass to pollute, the trust of countries that are not part of Icao’s council will be undermined as well as the public trust in the credibility of airlines’ environmental claims.


See earlier:

Open letter to ICAO – the CORSIA scheme should not be weakened, just because of Covid

Thirteen organisations concerned with aviation carbon emissions and carbon trading, have written to ICAO to ask that they stick to the intentions for how the CORSIA scheme is set up, and do not weaken it. The stated purpose of CORSIA is to help the international aviation sector achieve “carbon-neutral growth from 2020”. It is due to use as a baseline the aviation CO2 emissions from 2019 and 2020. However, with the Covid pandemic, airline carbon emissions will be much lower than anticipated this year. If ICAO used 2019 and 2020, the amount of carbon the sector could emit, and the cost of emitting it, would be far lower than anticipated. So IATA wants to change the rules, so the carbon baseline only considers 2019, not including 2020, which would result in significantly lower offsetting requirements for airlines compared to the current CORSIA design. In fact, under most recovery scenarios, the change sought by IATA would eliminate all offsetting requirements for the duration of the CORSIA pilot phase and potentially several years thereafter. The rules need to be adhered to.

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European Commission will keep intra-European aviation within the ETS, as well as being in the ICAO’s CORSIA scheme

ICAO’s planned global scheme for offsetting emissions from international flights will supplement, not replace, the European Union carbon market, the EU’s transport commissioner has now said. With the United Nations (ICAO) planning a 2021 launch of CORSIA, clarity is needed that the European Commission will not remove aviation from the EU emissions trading system (ETS). Transport Commissioner, Adian Valean said:  “CORSIA will not put the ETS at stake. It will not replace the ETS. It will complement the ETS.”  The ETS only covers flights between European countries, not outside Europe. It is a more effective scheme, in incentivising lower carbon emissions, than CORSIA – which is very weak. But ICAO wants the EU to remove these flights from its carbon market so that CORSIA can be the only market-based measure tackling international aviation emissions. The Commission, the 27-nation EU’s executive is assessing how the two systems will co-exist.  It is important that EU flights outside Europe are in the CORSIA scheme, and Europe participates – otherwise other countries may also decide not to take part.

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IATA calls for change in CORSIA baseline to protect airlines from future higher offsetting requirements

Fri 3 Apr 2020
By GreenAir online

As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, IATA has called on the ICAO Council to change the baseline calculation used for the CORSIA offsetting scheme for international aviation emissions.

Under rules agreed by ICAO, the baseline is set at the average emissions for the years 2019 and 2020. For the 15-year duration of CORSIA starting next year, airlines are required to purchase offsets to cover any annual growth in emissions above the baseline.
The collapse in global air traffic as a result of the outbreak, with demand unlikely to recover this year, will lead to significantly lower 2020 emissions. This in turn will lower the baseline considerably than was previously projected and result in much higher anticipated offsetting requirements and therefore costs once the sector returns to previous levels, says IATA.
It requests the Council to make the change no later than the end of June.

In a position paper, IATA says the baseline must be adjusted “to ensure the sustainable development of international aviation and avoid an inappropriate economic burden on the sector.” It recommends that only emissions for 2019 be used for calculating the baseline.

In support of its justification for a change in the baseline, the IATA paper quotes paragraph 16 of the A40-19 CORSIA resolution passed at the last ICAO Assembly in 2019,  “… on the need to provide for safeguards in the CORSIA to ensure the sustainable development of the international aviation sector and against inappropriate economic burden on international aviation, and requests the Council to decide the basis and criteria for triggering such action and identify possible means to address these issues …”.

The IATA paper argues: “Allowing the use of 2019 emissions as an alternative would preserve the environmental benefits that were forecast to be achieved through CORSIA as the adjusted baseline would remain more stringent than what the baseline would have been without the Covid-19 crisis.”

The airline trade body is also concerned that countries already signed up to join the voluntary pilot and first phases of CORSIA, and those still considering joining, may reconsider their positions in order to protect their airlines from potential higher compliance costs if no change is made to the 2019/20 calculation. States have until June 30 to notify ICAO of their intention to join the scheme from the beginning or decide to discontinue their voluntary participation.

Accordingly, IATA urges the Council to take a decision on a baseline adjustment before this date at the latest.

IATA also calls on ICAO to urge States to extend the May 31 deadline for the submission by aeroplane operators of their 2019 verified emissions report until at least the end of October 2020. It argues Covid-19 travel restrictions and confinement measures in many countries “have made it impossible for verification bodies to conduct verification activities.”

Historically, air transport activity has rebounded quickly after previous global crises but IATA’s March 24 Covid-19 impact assessment points to the potential for a deep financial recession following the outbreak that would delay the air transport sector’s recovery to previous levels. If this was to be the case and a 2019 only baseline applied to CORSIA, this could considerably reduce airline demand for offsets, at least in the 2021-23 pilot phase.Although it is too early to predict the impact of the pandemic on total emissions from international aviation this year, IATA’s current forecast is for a 38% fall in global passenger traffic in 2020. According to IATA, global emissions in 2019 – from domestic as well as international flights – totalled 915 million tonnes. Emissions from international aviation activity, which will be covered by CORSIA, account for around 60% of the global total.