Oct. 9-11, 2022.
Opinion/analysis by Mathew Carr
Carbon offset prices at $5/ton seen well below the $150/ton needed to incentivize sustainable aviation fuel, which will be the staple of the airline industry’s climate action, according to this airline industrial lobby group.
How the global industry gets to its “aspirational” goal in 2050 from surging climate pollution under its CORSIA carbon market remains very unclear.
The UN CORSIA (Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation) solution is at least global but seems to incentivize small ambition, according to the Transport & Environment environment lobby group.
It might be seen as arrogant for the airline industry to assume it does not need to pay for the first 85% of its 2019 emissions (which is its new baseline from 2024).
Above that level it needs to offset or cut emissions. Most industries can argue they are global, so why the airline industry deserves special treatment is unclear (though it is a difficult-to-abate industry).
Even offseting above the 85% would cost $770 million at $5/ton in 2030, yet $23 billion at $150/ton, based on Transport & Environment’s estimate for 154 million tons of demand in 2030 (see chart below, middle column).
Higher carbon prices would also likely boost uptake of electric flights for regional distances, assuming clean electricity is available.
“The lower baseline will place a significantly greater cost burden on airlines,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s (the industry lobby group’s) Director General. (IATA is the International Air Transport Association.)
“So, it is more critical than ever that governments do not chip away at the cement which bonds CORSIA as the only economic measure to manage the carbon footprint of international aviation. [CarrZee: this seems to be an argument against jurisdictions including the EU raising its ambition to require all (most) airline emissions to face carbon pricing.]
“States must now honor, support and defend CORSIA against any proliferation of economic measures. These will only undermine CORSIA and the collective effort to decarbonize aviation,” Walsh said.
Unedited press release from ICAO (see criticism below from environmental lobby group):
States adopt net-zero 2050 global aspirational goal for international flight operations
Montréal, 7 October 2022 – Culminating 2 weeks of intensive diplomacy by over 2500 delegates from 184 States and 57 organizations at the 41st ICAO Assembly, ICAO Member States adopted a collective long-term global aspirational goal (LTAG) of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
The achievement of the LTAG will rely on the combined effect of multiple CO2 emissions reduction measures, including the accelerated adoption of new and innovative aircraft technologies, streamlined flight operations, and the increased production and deployment of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF).
“States’ adoption of this new long term goal for decarbonized air transport, following the similar commitments from industry groups, will contribute importantly to the green innovation and implementation momentum which must be accelerated over the coming decades to ultimately achieve emissions free powered flight,” stressed the President of the ICAO Council Mr. Salvatore Sciacchitano.
“Countries have achieved some tremendous and very important diplomatic progress at this event, and on topics of crucial importance to the future sustainability of our planet and the air transport system which serves and connects its populations,” commented ICAO Secretary General Juan Carlos Salazar.
States at the ICAO Assembly also collectively underscored the importance of viable financing and investment support to the new CO2 emissions goal’s attainment, and fully supported the new ICAO Assistance, Capacity-building and Training for Sustainable Aviation Fuels (ACT-SAF) programme to accelerate the availability and use of SAF – requesting in addition that a third ICAO Conference on Aviation and Alternative Fuels be convened in 2023.
Other notable environmental developments at the 41st ICAO Assembly included the completion of the first periodic review of the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA). Countries agreed on a new CORSIA baseline from 2024 onwards, defined as 85% of CO2 emissions in 2019, and on revised percentages for the sectoral and individual growth factors to be used for the calculation of offsetting requirements from 2030 onwards.
The historic outcome of the Assembly were acknowledged to be thanks to the outstanding leadership and excellent chairwomanship of the meeting by Ms. Poppy Khoza, the Director General of Civil Aviation of South Africa, and the first ever female President of the ICAO Assembly.
Resources for Editors
Carbon dioxide emissions from domestic air operations are covered under States’ Paris Agreement commitments, while those resulting from the operation of international flights are addressed collectively under the Chicago Convention and the associated agreements States arrive at via their diplomatic consensus at ICAO.
In addition to the official nation state decision makers who collaborate together at Assembly events, the multilateral discussions and outcomes are informed by key contributions from industry and civil society groups who participate as official observers.
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is a United Nations agency which helps 193 countries to cooperate together and share their skies to their mutual benefit.
Since it was established in 1944, ICAO’s support and coordination has helped countries to diplomatically and technically realize a uniquely rapid and dependable network of global air mobility, connecting families, cultures, and businesses all over the world, and promoting sustainable growth and socio-economic prosperity wherever aircraft fly.
As it enters a new era of digitization, and of incredible new flight and propulsion innovations, air transport is relying more than ever on ICAO’s expert support and technical and diplomatic guidance to help chart a new and exciting future for international flight. ICAO is innovating itself to answer this call, and expanding its partnerships among UN and technical stakeholders to deliver a strategic global vision and effective, sustainable solutions.
Recommendations of the ICAO Council can be found in this Assembly Working Paper
Unedited (I’ve reached out to T&E):
UN body ICAO hails empty goal and cheap offsetting scheme to ‘green’ aviation
With the offsetting scheme put forward by the UN agency for aviation, ICAO, a mere 22% of total international emissions would be offset by 2030, new data by Transport & Environment (T&E) finds.
At this year’s UN ICAO General Assembly, countries have agreed on a non-binding target of getting aviation net CO2 emissions to zero by 2050 while watering down the only tool at their disposal to try and address the sector’s climate impact. To get to net zero emissions, member states will rely on a scheme meant to offset growth in international aviation emissions called Corsia.
“This is not the aviation’s Paris agreement moment. Let’s not pretend that a non-binding goal will get aviation down to zero. If countries and industry are serious about this aspirational goal, they should stop bullying the EU out of its plans to finally price emissions from departing flights. The EU should not wait for more empty promises to move ahead with its SAF mandate and pricing of departing flights,” said Jo Dardenne, aviation director at T&E.
Under Corsia, less than a third of international aviation emission would be addressed by 2030, as airlines must only pay to offset growth in emissions above a certain baseline. Major aviation markets like China, Russia, Brazil, India don’t apply the scheme, further weakening the efficacy of the system. The baseline has progressively been lowered as a result of industry pressure, seeking to avoid their climate responsibility, T&E says.
The outcome of the Assembly in Montreal was hugely disappointing – albeit expected – with a baseline of 85% of 2019 emissions levels above which emissions need to be offset, instead of the average 2019-2020. In its original design, before the new watering down by the Assembly, Corsia was already an ineffective scheme, using cheap offsets with no environmental gains.
New calculations by T&E show that with this 85% baseline a mere 22% of total international aviation emissions would be covered by the scheme and therefore offset in 2030. Yet, the price of offsets is so low that there will be no incentives for the decarbonisation of the industry or the uptake of green fuels. On a flight from Europe to the US, with the new adopted baseline, a mere €1.7 would be added to the price of the ticket to offset emissions. Earlier calculations by T&E for the average 2019/2020 baseline had shown that offsets on a flight to New York would cost only an extra €2.4 for a passenger flying from Europe.
“This Assembly’s decision shows that the ICAO continues to adapt its measures for the benefit of the industry and not for the climate. Countries, and specifically the EU, must see through this smoke screen and move forward with true green measures,” concluded Jo Dardenne.
 Under current rates of predicted growth of air traffic, international aviation will contribute to 699 million tonnes of CO2 poured into the atmosphere by 2030. CORSIA offsets would cover only 22% of emissions (or 154 million tonnes of CO2) at the start of the next decade.
(Smoothed some language on Nov. 28, 2022)