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 market-based measures such as cap-and-trade systems or taxes, as well as through other policies such as fuel mandates or the promotion of alternatives such as rail.
In 2010, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) agreed on a so-called Carbon Neutral Growth target to offset all CO2 emissions from international flights above 2020 levels. To reach this goal, a market-based measure, the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) was adopted in 2016.
Offsetting obligations will start in 2021, but participation by countries 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.
The ICAO offsetting scheme will also have implications for the development of the Paris Agreement rules. It is particularly important to avoid double counting of emissions reduction efforts meaning that emission reductions used to fulfill obligations under CORSIA are not also used towards countries’ obligations under the Paris Agreement.
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 communities. 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.
Since CORSIA is unlikely to drive any emission reductions in the aviation sector, Carbon Market Watch also works on domestic and regional carbon pricing measures that help bring the industry in line with a 1.5C pathway.
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 intense pressure from non-EU countries, the EU 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. As part of the European Green Deal, the European Commission plans to make airlines pay under the EU carbon market, instead of allocating free emission allowances to the sector.
Carbon Market Watch welcomes the plans to make airlines pay more under the EU ETS and calls for 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.