By Chris Lang
The International Civil Aviation Organization‘s Council agreed yesterday to change the baseline year for its Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA). Under CORSIA, airlines were supposed to buy carbon credits to offset their emissions above a baseline of the average emissions in 2019 and 2020.
Because of the coronvirus, emissions from aviation are dramatically lower than last year and therefore the baseline would have been much lower. The aviation would have had to buy far more carbon credits at a cost of billions of dollars. ICAO has therefore agreed to change the baseline to 2019 following lobbying from the International Air Transport Association.
Great news for the environment!
ICAO went into full-on Orwellian mode on Twitter, describing this weakening of an already molecular thin attempt to cover up the aviation industry’s ever increasing emissions as “Great news for the environment!”:
CORSIA “worse than nothing”
As Magdalena Heuwieser, a campaigner with the Stay Grounded network, points out, “CORSIA is not a useful instrument for lowering aviation’s climate impact. In fact, it is worse than nothing. That was already the case before the baseline change.”
Heuwieser argues that aviation emissions should be regulated by the UNFCCC, as well as at national and regional levels. Countries should include aviation emissions in their national climate plans and emission budgets. Heuwieser says,
“Emission cuts in aviation in line with the 1.5°C limit are only achievable by reducing flights since offsetting and technological approaches fail to do the job. This structural change of our mobility system has to go along with a just transition for the workers.”
Undermining carbon trading
Annie Petsonk, International Counsel at the Environmental Defense Fund, worries that ICAO’s decision to change the baseline will undermine carbon markets. “Changing baselines is a bad precedent for the development of carbon markets in other countries and sectors,” Petsonk says in a press statement.
The irony is that the threat to the CORSIA scheme is the massively reduced emissions from aviation. The scheme that is supposed to address emissions from aviation stops working when emissions are massively reduced – which of course is exactly what we need in order to address the climate crisis.
Of course, CORSIA was never intended to address emissions from the aviation sector. Its entire purpose is to allow emissions to continue without restraint, while giving the impression of doing something about the climate crisis.
ICAO’s decision to water down CORSIA will massively reduce the demand for carbon credits. Carbon market proponents like EDF’s Petsonk, had hoped that an ever expanding aviation industry relying on offsets would provide a boost to carbon markets. Pollution from aviation would create a steady market for REDD credits, for example, where none has existed before.
Stay Grounded’s Heuweiser explains what’s wrong with CORSIA – beyond the changing baseline:
“CORSIA is a total wreck beyond repair. In fact, it was broken from the very beginning. It covers a tiny fraction of aviation’s projected emissions and completely ignores the huge climate impact of airplane emissions other than CO2. It relies on harmful offsets and biofuels, both neo-colonial measures that shift the problems to communities in the Global South. CORSIA is not only a means for greenwashing aviation: holding on to it also blocks effective regulation and leads to further problems.”