IATA, Green Lobby at Odds over New Baseline for Corsia

 - July 1, 2020, 2:11 PM

This story is part of AIN's continuing coverage of the impact of the coronavirus on aviation.

The International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) governing council has agreed to change the emissions baseline specified by the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (Corsia) to consider the effect of Covid-19 on international air traffic. It's a decision welcomed by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) but deplored by environmental groups.

The ICAO council’s 36 members on Tuesday endorsed the modification of the period to be used as the baseline for measuring the growth of CO2 emissions to a 2019-only level rather than the average of 2019 and 2020, as initially foreseen under the plan. ICAO adopted Corsia in October 2016. Airlines have been measuring their CO2 emissions since last year, ahead of the start of the three-year voluntary pilot phase in 2021. Operators from participating states will have to buy carbon offset credits to cover any emissions from international flights above the baseline.

ICAO Council president Salvatore Sciacchitano claimed the body’s member states made a “measured assessment and have come to the most reasonable solution available given our current and very extraordinary circumstances.” Including 2020 emissions would have created an “inappropriate economic burden to airplane operators, due to the need to offset more emissions, although they are flying less and generating less emissions,” noted ICAO.

According to IATA, the Corsia baseline would have been “severely skewed” if the plan included 2020 emissions in the calculation. The airline trade association has lobbied for the change of baseline for the pilot phase since April. The European Union’s member states backed IATA’s request last month.

The ICAO council decision to remove 2020 from the baseline calculation “marks a pragmatic way forward that maintains the intent, spirit, and impact of the Corsia agreement,” said IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac. “And it gives all stakeholders the confidence to focus on successfully delivering Corsia and achieving our long-term emissions reduction goals, even in this time of crisis.” IATA stressed that the rewrite of the baseline does not weaken the benefits of Corsia.

Environmental groups, however, disagree. “Airlines’ golden (corona) life jacket makes a mockery of the green recovery,” remarked Carbon Watch. “This lobbying exercise is another example of the aviation sector’s hypocritical climate stance: airlines claim to fully support climate action by backing Corsia, while at the same time investing significant resources in efforts to weaken it. The result is a climate policy which is dying before it even starts,” said Carbon Watch policy officer Gilles Dufrasne.

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) called the baseline change “a bad precedent” for the development of carbon markets and warned that airlines will lose the “first-mover” advantage they had sought to secure through Corsia. According to the EDF, airlines could be “wholly excused from offset obligations” for the first three years of the program if emissions do not rise above 2019 levels.