Flying is the most carbon intensive form of transport and its emissions are expected to grow by up to 300% by 2050. Domestically, states and regions like the EU address aviation emissions through cap-and-trade systems, other market measures like taxes, and promoting alternatives such as rail. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has been the main forum to address emissions from international aviation since the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

International aviation

In 2010, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) agreed on two goals regarding aviation emissions, namely the improvement of fuel efficiency by 2% annually through 2050 and a so called Carbon Neutral Growth target to offset all pollution above 2020 levels. To reach this goal, a market-based measure, the Carbon Offset and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) was adopted in 2016.

The scheme will enter into force in 2021, but participation will be voluntary until 2027. It is already clear that CORSIA will not be enough to address the sector’s massive climate impact. This is due to its very weak climate goal and the objective of compensating emissions through offsets rather than actually reducing the emissions from planes. There is no role for offsetting in a climate-safe world, and each sector, including aviation, should focus on reducing its own emissions. Since CORSIA is not driving any emission reductions in the aviation sector, we are also working on domestic and regional carbon pricing measures that help bring the industry in line with a 1.5C pathway.

As a member of the International Coalition for Sustainable Aviation (ICSA) Carbon Market Watch is an observer to ICAO and participates in the elaboration of the rules for CORSIA.  These rules must ensure that the airlines will support good climate projects and not projects that fail to reduce emissions or harm human rights.

We call for higher climate ambition across the industry with a focus on in-sector emission reductions, robust governance rules, increased transparency and public participation.

Aviation in the EU

Along with other major emitters in Europe, aviation is covered by the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS). According to the initial plan, emissions from flights from, to and within the European Economic Area (EEA) were supposed to be covered by the ETS.

However, following the adoption of the global offsetting scheme CORSIA, the EU has decided to limit the ETS’s scope to flights within the EEA until 2024 and revisit the role of aviation in the EU ETS once the global system enters into force.

The aviation industry enjoys preferential treatment in the form of subsidies, tax exemptions and free pollution allowances. Carbon Market Watch calls for improvements to the current policies and further measures to address the growing emissions from flights to and from Europe. While the EU ETS itself needs to be improved, a weaker international deal should not replace it for aviation and thus undermine Europe’s climate action.  

Aviation in the United Nations climate talks

The ICAO offsetting scheme will also have implications for the development of the Paris Agreement rules.

While it makes no explicit reference to emissions from international aviation, the Paris Agreement does cover all man-made emissions under its long-term goal of keeping the global temperature rise well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Without more ambitious action in the aviation sector and rules harmonising CORSIA with UNFCCC carbon market rules, pollution from planes will undermine the Paris targets.

Carbon Market Watch works to highlight the large and growing issue of international aviation emissions and what it means for the global climate effort. We call on the aviation industry to participate in the global review and ratchet process under the Paris Agreement and increase its efforts in line with global climate goals. It is particularly important to avoid double counting of emissions reduction efforts meaning that offset credits used to fulfill obligations under CORSIA are not also used towards countries’ obligations under the Paris Agreement.