Report for the European Commission shows the CORSIA carbon scheme inadequate – EU ETS more effective in cutting CO2

The aviation industry’s carbon offsetting system (Corsia) risks being ineffective and poorly enforced.  A report commissioned by the European Commission (EC) is highly critical of Corsia, which it says may do almost nothing to reduce international aviation emissions. The EC is expected to propose in June how aviation industry emissions should be mitigated, including whether to include international flights in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) – currently only those within the European Economic Area are included. The ETS has its faults, but would be hugely more effective in cutting European aviation carbon.  A key problem with Corsia, apart from it being voluntary, is the use of cheap, ineffective carbon credits. Currently the price of Corsia-eligible offsets is under $2.50 per tonne. The ETS price is up to $43. Many of the credits are dubious, with inadequate certification or quality control of offsets. The rationale of just allowing airlines to compensate for their emissions, rather than encourage reductions, is misguided. The report concludes that the most effective way to cut EU aviation carbon would be to use the ETS, not Corsia, and include all international flights. The UK is considering how to do its own ETS, including aviation.


Corsia: worst option for the climate

Briefing on assessment of ICAO’s offsetting scheme

March 2021 – By Transport & Environment


Revealed: Unpublished EU analysis is scathing of airline CO2 deal

By Eoin Bannon (Transport & Environment)
March 18, 2021

A global agreement designed to tackle airline emissions could actually undermine Europe’s climate efforts, according to an EU study obtained by Transport & Environment (T&E).[1] The Corsia deal, under which airlines can pay to offset growth of carbon pollution, is “unlikely to materially alter” the climate impact of air travel, it finds. T&E said the EU cannot rely on the ineffective UN offsetting scheme and should re-integrate into its carbon market (ETS) the emissions from flights entering and exiting Europe.

The EU’s assessment of the Corsia airline CO2 deal

By Eoin Bannon (T&E)

T&E has obtained the EU Commission’s assessment of the UN’s aviation offsetting scheme (Corsia), which it received in September 2020 but has delayed publishing. The study (which can be downloaded here  ) finds major flaws in the scheme, calling into further question whether it can be in any way compatible with the EU Green Deal. T&E’s briefing, also available here  provides an analysis of the main findings as well as our recommendations to ensure Corsia does not further damage Europe’s climate ambitions by being integrated into EU law to the detriment of the EU carbon market (ETS).


Aviation industry carbon scheme highly flawed, Brussels warned

Airline sector’s reliance on its own carbon offsets system comes under fire in unpublished report for EU

The European Commission is expected to propose in June how to deal with aviation industry carbon emissions to meet EU global warming targets

By Camilla Hodgson, Philip Georgiadis and Leslie Hook in London and Mehreen Khan in Brussels  (Financial Times)


The aviation industry’s flagship carbon offsetting system (Corsia) risks being ineffective, poorly enforced and “undermining” the EU’s climate policies, according to an unpublished report written for the European Commission.

The highly critical analysis, seen by the Financial Times, was commissioned ahead of key decisions this summer on aviation in the EU’s regulated carbon market.

The report said the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (Corsia) was “unlikely to materially alter the direct climate impact associated with air travel” and may offer little better than a scenario “in which international aviation emissions remain unregulated”. 

The commission is expected to propose in June how aviation industry emissions should be mitigated, including whether to include international flights in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme.  [Currently only flights within the EEA  – intra-European – are included, not those outside it].

The ETS limits the volume of greenhouse gases that heavy polluters can emit and requires them to buy tradeable allowances to cover their output.

The study is a warning to the EU to take back responsibility for addressing pollution on European flights

Jo Dardenne, Transport & Environment

The report, dated September 2020, was drawn up by several aviation and climate consultancy groups chosen by the commission, and obtained by campaign group Transport & Environment under a freedom of information request.

It said that a reliance on Corsia, rather than an expansion of the scope of the ETS, risked “weakening current EU climate policies”. 

There was no guarantee that the carbon credits purchased by airlines to offset their emissions under Corsia would be of a high quality, meaning their effect would be questionable, it concluded.

“We have wasted almost a decade coming up with an airline CO2 scheme which is actually bad for the climate,” said Jo Dardenne, aviation manager at T&E. “The study is a warning to the EU to take back responsibility for addressing pollution on European flights.”

An industry-wide agreement to offset the growth in emissions from international aviation, Corsia is a cornerstone of the aviation’s response to rising pressure to reduce its carbon footprint. But the scheme has been criticised by environmentalists for allowing airlines to compensate for their emissions, rather than encourage reductions.

Its implementation has been delayed until 2023 due to the pandemic.

Before the pandemic grounded the world’s passenger fleets, aviation accounted for about 2.4% [that is the CO2 alone; the climate effect of the non-CO2 impacts may double that of the CO2 alone. AW comment] of global emissions, but it remains one of the hardest sectors to decarbonise due to the expense and other limitations of alternative fuels.

While aviation emissions per passenger have fallen 50% since 1990, the surge in the number of flights drove up the industry’s carbon emissions by more than a third between 2015 and 2020.

The report considered the impact of several scenarios, including using only the ETS to regulate aviation emissions, using only Corsia, or a combination of both. 

Expanding the ETS to cover all flights to, from and within the EU would have the biggest impact on reducing global CO2 from aviation, and cover nearly a quarter of [European] domestic and international emissions by 2025, it found. Only flights within the European Economic Area are currently covered by the system.

Relying only on Corsia would see the largest increase in global aviation CO2 emissions, of 1.5 times by 2035 compared to 2015, even if the offsets were “assumed to be of a high quality”, which was far from certain, it said. 

“If EU participation in Corsia replaces part, or all, of its existing regulation for aviation, it is unlikely that aviation would sufficiently contribute to the 90 per cent reduction in transport emissions [target] and risks undermining the ability to reach net-zero emissions by mid-century,” it said.

The ETS is a legally binding system, it noted, while Corsia lacked a robust system for enforcing participation or compliance with its rules. 

As well as using carbon offsets, the aviation industry plans to reduce its carbon footprint by using more efficient engines and sustainable aviation fuels, which are already in use but very expensive.

But under Corsia, airlines were likely to purchase cheaper offsets rather than switch to cleaner fuels, the report noted. New technologies such as electric or hydrogen-powered planes remain unproven, and could come into play nearer 2050.

S&P Global’s Platts CEC, which tracks the price of Corsia-eligible offsets, was valued at $2.06 per metric tonne of CO2-equivalent on Wednesday. This compares with the price of ETS allowances that hit a record high of more than $43 this week.

The report also warns about the quality of Corsia-eligible carbon offsets. None of the bodies that had been approved to certify offsets for the scheme performed all the quality control checks that the International Civil Aviation Organization said Corsia-eligible offsets had to pass, it found.

In some cases, Corsia’s technical advisory body had checked that certification groups had quality control systems in place — designed to ensure that offsets delivered real, additional and permanent carbon benefits — but not whether these systems were “effective”, the report said.

The International Civil Aviation Organization declined to comment, but the head of the International Air Transport Association told the FT this week that airlines were working towards tougher climate targets.

In a statement in response to the report, the European Commission said it was working on drawing up “rules to implement Corsia in a way that is consistent with the EU’s 2030 climate objectives”.


See earlier:

CORSIA: World’s biggest plan to make flying green ‘too broken to fix’

So far the only scheme that might be used globally, to try to reduce the CO2 emissions of aviation, is the UN’s CORSIA. But it is wholly inadequate for the task. Now an assessment by the German DW shows that the scheme would not even require airlines to offset their CO2 emissions for another 6 years, and the cost will be much to small to have any deterrent effect.  The CORSIA scheme finally launched this month, with the aim of stopping the total emissions of aviation from rising about their level in 2019. Critics say the scheme is unambitious and ineffective. The baseline above which offsets must be paid is so high that it will take until 2026 before any airline has to purchase any.  Magdalena Heuwieser, co-founder of the Stay Grounded activist group: “CORSIA is a wreck that is too broken to fix.  It is even worse than doing nothing because it distracts from real solutions.” That is because it could delay investments in the technologies needed to decarbonise flights.  A lot of smaller countries, with new aviation sectors, and not required to be part of CORSIA.  Many large countries might join, on a voluntary basis, before 2027.  Others will only join then.

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Domestic flights and flights to European countries now covered by UK ETS (replacing EU ETS)

Having left the EU, there is now a UK Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) and aviation will be covered in that, in the same way as it was in the EU ETS.  So only applies to flights within the UK, or any flight within Europe (the countries that are the EEA). In response to a question in Parliament by Ben Bradshaw (Labour), Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Minister of State (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Clean Growth) said: “The UK ETS initially covers around one third of UK greenhouse gas emissions, and applies to the power sector, heavy industry, domestic aviation, and flights from the UK to the European Economic Area. We recognise that meeting Net Zero will require us to build on this ambition. That is why in the next 9 months we will consult on how to align the UK ETS cap with an appropriate net zero trajectory. The cap will provide certainty about the UK’s decarbonisation trajectory over the long-term … We are also committed to explore expanding the UK ETS and will set out our aspirations to continue to lead the world on carbon pricing in the run up to COP26.”

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T&E: Why Europe should focus on its own airline carbon market and forget the UN scheme

Transport & Environment argues why Europe should not depend on the inadequate, ineffective CORSIA scheme, for its aviation CO2 emissions. CORSIA does not include an actual emissions reduction target. It is at odds with the Paris agreement’s goals. The quality of the offsets is not good enough; there are so many of them that the price is far too low to make airlines reduce emissions.  An EU system could do better.  T&E says: “The aviation geeks of this world will know the argument [that international aviation can only be controlled by ICAO] by heart now: “aviation is an international mode of transport, so it requires international solutions”. But does it, really? A majority of the aviation industry is eager to privilege international solutions when they want to escape their environmental responsibilities, but are very happy to promote national solutions when it comes to getting [Covid] bailout money. This needs to stop. Aviation can’t have it both ways: it’s unfair for the sector to get support in bad times and refuse to contribute to European and national environmental efforts in good times. Especially when the industry isn’t effectively dealing with aviation’s climate problem by itself”.

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Aviation industry decision to weaken CORSIA climate plan could break ICAO’s own rules

Countries attending the UN’s ICAO meeting this week look set to weaken the only international policy to address the climate impact of aircraft. But the way the decision is being made could be in violation of the organisation’s own rules. ICAO has for years been supposed to take responsibility for international aviation CO2 emissions, but have done almost nothing. It has a scheme, CORSIA (Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation) set up in 2016. It would, at best, deliver only small CO2 emissions reductions, nowhere approaching on the scale needed. Now ICAO plans to further weaken the CORSIA scheme, by changing the way the baseline for emissions is determined. A bad scheme would become a very bad scheme.  This may be illegal, according to its own regulations – ICAO has always been opaque and concealed information. The change of baseline, using only 2019 emissions, not the average of 2019 + 2020, would mean no airline offsetting obligations until 2028 or later. It could also reduce the overall chance of cutting aviation carbon by 25-75%. The final decision on the baseline change is expected on 26th June.

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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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