Environment: CORSIA Has Begun. Our Sustainable Future Starts Here.

​By Alexandre de Juniac, IATA DG

It was an achievement ten years in the making, but on 1st January, the implementation of the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) began. Airlines have started monitoring and reporting their emissions for the first carbon offsetting obligations beginning in 2021.

CORSIA is the result of the aviation industry’s four-pillar climate strategy and goal for carbon-neutral growth from 2020. In 2008 the industry became the first global business sector to set ambitious targets for carbon emissions: first, to improve fuel efficiency per passengers by 1.5% annually to 2020. Second, to cap emissions through carbon-neutral growth from 2020, and third, to cut net CO2 emissions 50% by 2050 compared to 2005 level.

These targets are ambitious but realistic, provided governments work with industry. The basis for achieving the targets is a four-pillar strategy. Two pillars are the responsibility of industry: introducing new technology, and improving the efficiency of operations. The third pillar, better use of infrastructure, requires partnership with governments, especially in the area of air traffic management. The fourth pillar, a market-based measure, requires governments to make a commitment to a single global mechanism for reporting and mitigating airline carbon emissions. The mechanism became CORSIA, and it was adopted by governments at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in 2016. At least 78 states have volunteered for the first phase of CORSIA, from 2021, with it becoming mandatory from 2027.

CORSIA is crucial to achieving carbon-neutral growth. The other three pillars of our strategy have delivered tremendous efficiency improvements, but the increase in flights due to the demand to fly has outstripped these efficiency gains. Offsetting, through which airlines invest in carbon-reduction projects in other sectors of the economy, is a long-established and respected method for ensuring climate finance is directed towards the most innovative and effective methods for reducing carbon emissions. Through offsetting, the industry can cap its net emissions at 2020 levels, until technology levels create the conditions to reduce aircraft emissions at source.

The industry worked hard to convince governments of the importance of agreeing CORSIA, and on the technical steps needed for implementation. There were three reasons why airlines did this: firstly, because the leaders of airlines share the same concerns over climate change as many other people. Secondly, tackling aviation’s contribution to climate change is increasingly being seen as our industry’s “license to grow”. Thirdly, the financial bottom line benefits from reduced fuel burn – depending on the price of oil, jet fuel comprises between 20-30% of an airline’s cost. In addition, through CORSIA we have a chance to minimize the patchwork of overlapping environmental taxes and charges, many of which create money for governments but do nothing for the environment.

So the industry welcomed the CORSIA agreement. And we have reaffirmed our commitment to the industry goals numerous times, most notably in resolutions at our AGMs in 2016 and 2017. More importantly, we have practical support in place. At ICAO, our input into the technical work groups helped define the monitoring reporting and verification processes. And we have developed a program of workshops, training, and an on-line reporting tool FRED+ (Fuel Reporting and Emissions Database) to help ensure airlines are meeting their monitoring obligations.

As I wrote in an earlier blog, it was very disappointing to see the European Union, which has done so much to promote CORSIA, undermine it by adopting their own MRV standards. European governments in Sweden, the Netherlands and elsewhere persist in adopting environmental taxes which run counter to the commitments made at ICAO.

Nevertheless, it is still a moment to celebrate. No other industry has asked to be globally regulated on carbon emissions, still less has employed resources to ensure the adopted measure has become a practical reality. And at ICAO, the world’s governments delivered. We need to take that spirit of cooperation and apply it to other areas of practical value, most obviously, increasing production of sustainable aviation fuels, and air traffic management reform.

2019 promises to be a challenging year for the global economy. But airlines will not be deflected from our environmental commitments. Whatever 2019 has in store for you, I wish you a happy year’s traveling, enjoying the benefits of the business of freedom.

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