European Union member countries pleased airlines and irritated environmentalists on Tuesday by saying they could support a technical change to the baseline against which aviation greenhouse gas emissions will be measured in a global system that starts up next year.
Airline emissions should be measured against what they were in 2019, rather than the average of 2019 and 2020, for the purposes of the International Civil Aviation Organization’s CORSIA (Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation) program, the Council of the EU said.
The change would be significant because after 2021, airlines participating in CORSIA will buy carbon credits for carbon emissions above the baseline. CORSIA’s objective is to limit growth in aviation emissions by making airlines pay for any rise above the baseline level.
Changing the baseline was needed to adjust for the impact of the coronavirus crisis on international aviation, Oleg Butković, Croatia’s transport minister, said in a statement. Croatia currently chairs the Council of the EU, which represents the governments of the bloc’s countries.
If 2020 greenhouse gas emissions were taken into account, it would lead to a low baseline and a likely need for airlines to buy large volumes of carbon credits to compensate for rising emissions in 2021 as air travel returns to pre-coronavirus levels.
The EU decision comes at the start of an ICAO governing council session, running from June 8-26, at which the council has said it will consider the baseline question.
EU Position Welcomed
Modifying the baseline was “necessary to ensure the sustainable development of international aviation and avoid an inappropriate economic burden on the sector,” Jennifer Janzen, spokeswoman for Airlines for Europe, which represents companies including Air France KLM Group, International Consolidated Airlines Group and Lufthansa Group, said in an email.
EU backing for the modification was welcome, and ICAO should adopt the change before the end of June to allow the necessary legal amendments ahead of the start of the CORSIA pilot phase, Janzen said.
CORSIA will start in 2021 with a test phase, during which offsetting will be voluntary. The scheme will become mandatory for most ICAO states in 2027.
Without an agreement to shift the baseline, some countries might withdraw from the voluntary phase because of the impact on their airlines, Africa Abajas, head of aviation services for Vertis Environmental Finance, an emissions trading consultancy, told Bloomberg Law.
“If the states start to withdraw from the system, there would be no CORSIA at all,” she said.
Currently, 83 countries have said they will participate in the voluntary phase, but countries have until June 30 to change their minds, she added.
But a change of baseline could give airlines an easy ride for several years, with aviation emissions possibly not returning to 2019 levels before 2023, Andrew Murphy, aviation manager for green group Transport & Environment, told Bloomberg Law.
“We’ve long argued that CORSIA was never going to reduce aviation emissions meaningfully,” he said.
A decision on the baseline should be postponed until there is a better understanding of the impact of coronavirus, Murphy said.
CORSIA is subject to periodic reviews and “the more prudent thing to do would have been to wait,” Abajas said.