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First class or economy? – An assessment of credit providers for the aviation offsetting scheme

This briefing was updated on 1 April 2019 

Executive summary

The Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), a new carbon market established under the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), aims to compensate the growth in CO2 emissions from international flights above 2020 levels, starting in 2021.

ICAO must, therefore, identify which carbon offsets airlines can use to meet their obligations. This will be carried out by the Technical Advisory Body (TAB), which will assess existing GHG programs (i.e. offset providers) based on criteria which were formally adopted by the ICAO Council in March 2019.

This briefing analyzes eight offset programs against one of the two sets of criteria adopted by the ICAO Council: the Program Design Elements. The programs analysed are the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), Verified Carbon Standard (VCS), Gold Standard (GS), Japan’s Joint Crediting Mechanism (JCM), Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF), Climate Action Reserve (CAR), American Carbon Registry (ACR) and Plan Vivo.

Information is based on publicly available documentation and, although not exhaustive, this screening provides insight into the general adjustments needed for all offset programs to meet CORSIA requirements.

Our conclusion is that no program can yet operate in a manner which complies with all the eligibility criteria. Some will need to update and improve certain parts of their protocols or methodologies, but all are hampered by the lack of clarity on international accounting rules to avoid double counting of emission reductions.

The present assessment also highlights that the Program Design Elements are not sufficient to exclude credits with no environmental value and that a rigorous application of the second set of criteria, the Carbon Offset Credit Integrity Assessment Criteria is necessary and will require an analysis of specific methodologies and projects.

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