A U.N. body will consider easing an emissions reduction plan for international flight this week because the new coronavirus may have made the plan’s targets harder to achieve.
The European Union and global airline companies are asking the International Civil Aviation Organization’s 36-member council to amend its climate change plan during a three-week round of meetings in June.
The council is likely to discuss changes to the program, called the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation, or CORSIA, on Wednesday or Friday, organization spokesman Anthony Philbin said in an email.
The council’s discussions include reviews of a study from an environmental protection committee on the effects of Covid-19 on CORSIA, and a technical advisory body’s recommendations on the plan, Philbin said. Covid-19 is the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is also participating in the talks.
“We are considering whether adjustments to CORSIA are necessary to avoid an unanticipated and disproportionate economic impact,” said an official who provided comment on background.
Carbon market organizations and environmental groups involved in the development of CORSIA sharply oppose any change, arguing it’s best to wait until the full effects of the pandemic are known.
“By changing CORSIA’s baseline year we risk going from a cheap offsetting scheme to no scheme at all,” Jo Dardenne, aviation manager at advocacy group Transport & Environment, wrote in an email.
CORSIA is the U.N. organization’s largest climate change program. It will require airlines to offset all emissions from international flights that are above average emissions in 2019 and 2020. Airlines can offset emissions by buying credits in carbon markets.
But industry expectations for the amount of credits they will have to buy when the program begins in 2021 have shifted significantly during the pandemic. A severe drop in airline emissions this year means the gap between annual emissions and the 2019-2020 average will be much greater.
In response, the International Air Transport Association, the world’s largest group for the industry, wants 2020 removed as a baseline, leaving only 2019.
The change will actually make CORSIA tougher than what airlines had predicted before the pandemic because emissions in 2019 are lower than the two-year average, Andrew Stevens, International Air Transport Association spokesman, wrote in an email.
The global airline sector, which expects to lose some $84 billion in 2020 from Covid-19, would save $11 billion by removing 2020 as a baseline year, Stevens wrote.
The Council of the European Union, which makes key political decisions for the bloc, changed its position on CORSIA on Tuesday, in support of the airline’s request to amend the program.
The change is crucial to maintain the same level of ambition under the scheme and to ensure participation in a pilot phase between 2021 and 2027, Oleg Butkovic, Croatia’s minister for the sea, transport, and infrastructure, said in a statement Tuesday.
Croatia currently holds the European Union’s presidency.
An analysis by the Environmental Defense Fund in May found that removing 2020 could create a scenario that allows airlines to avoid facing any offsetting requirements until the beginning of the mandatory period in 2028.
Since the scale of the pandemic’s effects on CORSIA depend on how well the industry recovers, the wiser action would be to wait several years and use flexibility built into the program to taper the short-term effects, Annie Petsonk, counsel at the fund, told Bloomberg Law.
The council also hasn’t explained whether it can legally make any significant changes to CORSIA because the climate change program was originally approved by the organization’s 193-nation assembly in 2016, Gilles Dufrasne, policy officer at Carbon Market Watch, said in an email.
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