The International Civil Aviation Organization carved out small emitters, which includes most business aircraft operators, and light aircraft as it agreed today to a comprehensive market-based measure (MBM) to help curb the aviation industry’s carbon dioxide (CO2) footprint worldwide. Dubbed Carbon Offset and Reduction System for International Aviation (CORSIA), the plan was adopted along with the global CO2 standard that was unveiled earlier this year.
It is chiefly aimed at airlines and other large operators, calling for a phase-in beginning in 2021 with the aim of capping emissions from international flights at 2020 levels. The initial phase is voluntary by states, with mandatory participation not required before 2027.
Importantly for the business aviation community, the CORSIA resolution states that it “does not apply to low levels of international aviation activity with a view to avoiding administrative burden: aircraft operators emitting less than 10,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions from international aviation per year; aircraft with less than 5,700 kg [about 12,500 pounds] of maximum takeoff mass (MTOM); or humanitarian, medical and firefighting operations.”
The exemptions remove all but a small number of business aircraft operators, but just 0.24 percent of the total aviation emissions from the CORSIA. Kurt Edwards, director general of the International Business Aviation Council, which worked to secure the exemptions, estimated that a Gulfstream G650 would have to fly 2,000 hours internationally annually between participating states to reach 10,000 metric tons. The number goes up to 2,500 hours for a G550.
He added that the exemptions recognize the de minimis contribution of business aviation to the global aviation CO2 footprint, as well as the costs and administrative burden such a scheme would impose on small operators.
NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen called the small emitters exemptions an important and fundamental part of the agreement, pointing out that “business aviation is responsible for only a small fraction of total aviation emissions.” Individual countries must implement the programs, which NBAA notes must still take shape. “The next three years will be important, as countries evaluate compliance with the international carbon-offsetting standard,” Bolen said. “We expect that the FAA, which will lead U.S. efforts, will evaluate the impact of the agreement before finalizing plans that affect U.S. operators.”
Edwards welcomed the approach for a global standard. "The worldwide business aviation community welcomes the decision by governments at ICAO to establish a single, global carbon-offsetting scheme for international aviation,” he said. “The framework agreed at ICAO will help us meet our collective industry commitments while also taking into account the needs of small operators. Importantly, the global framework means we will avoid a patchwork of multiple measures around the world."
Ed Smith, senior v-p of international and environmental affairs at GAMA, added that the phased approach CORSIA takes should help ease in the economic impact on affected operators. He noted that for business aviation, MBMs are only one of the pillars that the community has adopted to lower its carbon footprint.
“With agreement reached earlier this year at ICAO on the first-ever CO2 standard for aircraft combined with today’s agreement on CORSIA, the global aviation industry has taken vital steps toward fulfilling its commitment to address climate change while not jeopardizing continued economic growth,” added GAMA president and CEO Pete Bunce.
GAMA noted that the business aviation community in 2009 outlined its goals to reduce the industry's impact on climate change. “Achievement of these goals depends on progress on a basket of measures, including use of alternative fuels and improvements in aircraft technology, air traffic control infrastructure and operational efficiency, and implementation of market-based measures as an interim gap-filler,” the association said.
NBAA COO Steve Brown noted the global recognition business aviation has received for its efforts to reduce its CO2 footprint and how it has led in areas of technologies that improve efficiency and lower emissions. “[ICAO] understands the tradeoffs of bringing in a new cost regime,” he said, noting increased costs could cause operators to invest less in newer technologies.
While the overall agreement was “hard fought” at the political level, Edwards said that the technical aspects—including the exemptions—appeared to have broad support throughout the discussions this year.
While the implementation gets hashed out, a number of questions remain, including the ultimate fate of EU-ETS within Europe. Since CORSIA applies only to international operations, Europe could continue to maintain its own emissions scheme—which does apply to a number of business aircraft operators—within the region. Edwards noted that it is still unclear whether Europe will continue with the program or make changes based on the ICAO agreement. Brown noted that most of Europe has signed on to participate in the early phases.