The European Union (EU) has thrown its weight behind plans to change a UN scheme to tackle the aviation industry’s carbon footprint, to the dismay of environmental activists.
On Tuesday, the 27 member states of the EU voted to support changes that would alter requirements of the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) to reflect lowered emissions throughout the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.
The news comes as the 36-strong council of the UN’s lead aviation agency – the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) – meets to weigh up possible changes to CORSIA. The review will run from 8 June to 26 June.
In October 2016, the ICAO moved to pass the CORSIA plan. Starting in 2021, the plan would require airlines to purchase carbon offset credits that would counterbalance any emissions above a baseline of average emissions in 2019 and 2020.
However, industry advocates including the International Air Transport Association (IATA) have pushed to have this baseline adjusted to 2019, arguing that uncharacteristically low emissions in 2020 would skew the program against airlines.
In March, the IATA wrote to the ICAO calling for changes to be made to the baseline. Failing to do so, they reasoned, amounts to putting an “inappropriate economic burden on international aviation”.
In fact, Reuters reports that changing to a 2019 baseline could save the industry as much as US$15 billion in carbon offsetting costs, which many see as a necessary step to ensuring airlines have the liquidity to survive the current crisis. However, the decision has also angered environmental activists within Europe and the wider world.
“This could be the final blow for CORSIA,” said Gilles Dufrasne, senior policy officer at Carbon Market Watch. “It was always a ridiculously weak system, but now it is becoming essentially meaningless. Airlines are just let off the hook one more time.”
Germany’s Öko-Institut found that, depending on the speed of the recovery, changing the baseline to 2019 could allow airlines a “free pass” to pollute for the next three to six years.