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Environment & Energy Report

Virus-Hit Airlines Get UN Body to Ease Climate-Reduction Plan

July 1, 2020, 12:15 AM

A U.N. body has eased a greenhouse gas reduction plan at the urging of the airline industry, which cited the coronavirus’ financial damage as an obstacle to achieving the plan’s intended targets.

The Montreal-based International Civil Aviation Organization’s 36-nation council agreed to make 2019 the sole baseline year for the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation, or CORSIA, at a meeting on Tuesday.

The program, which takes effect next year, originally included 2020 as a baseline. But the steep drop in airlines emissions this year when the coronavirus virtually halted some travel would mean airlines would have to offset more emissions under the program, creating an inappropriate economic burden, the organization said in a news release.

“Council states today have made a measured assessment and have come to the most reasonable solution available given our current and very extraordinary circumstances,” council president Salvatore Sciacchitano said in a statement.

Emissions targets under the program are measured against the baseline. Airlines are meant to achieve their targets by buying carbon offset credits, which go on to fund programs that counter the effects of climate change.

This year will be removed as a baseline year for the program’s pilot phase between 2021 and 2023, but future years could also one day be altered, the body said. A review is planned for 2022.

Save $15 Billion

The global airline industry, facing heavy financial loses as planes stay grounded during the pandemic, would save $15 billion with the move, the International Air Transport Association said prior to the meeting.

The association didn’t response to an immediate request for comment after the decision.

The U.S. said it supported the decision, which was made to address the impacts of the coronavirus, a Federal Aviation Authority official who spoke on condition of anonymity said.

“This decision takes into account the reduction in international aviation emission in the near term,” the official wrote in email.

Environmental Criticism

Environmental groups heavily criticized the change, which they said would mean airlines won’t have to make emissions cuts for the first three years of the program if emissions stay below 2019 levels during that period.

The 36-member governing council’s decision to change CORSIA without consulting the organization’s full 193-nation assembly, which originally approved the program in 2016, sets a bad precedent for the body, Annie Petsonk, international counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund, said in a June 30 statement.

Leaving 2020 as a baseline year would disrespect the original intention of the program, the U.N. agency said in its release.

The global airline industry produces just under 2% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to the organization.

To contact the reporter on this story: James Munson in Toronto at correspondents@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergindustry.com; Chuck McCutcheon at cmccutcheon@bloombergenvironment.com

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