IATA expects CORSIA carbon offset scheme will pass

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) said it is optimistic that governments from around the world will finally agree to the Carbon Offset and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) plan when they meet in Montreal later this month for the 39th Assembly of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Even so, the latest version of CORSIA will not become mandatory until 2027 at the earliest, granting time for a voluntary “pilot and implementation” period between 2021 and2027.

“The aviation industry would have preferred a more ambitious timeline than is currently outlined in the draft text,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO. “However, what is most important is that the substance of the negotiating text will allow for meaningful management of aviation’s carbon footprint. Airlines support it and urge governments to agree when they meet at ICAO.”

Air travel’s convenience comes with a hefty environmental price tag, and environmentalists and later industry stakeholders are pushing for substantive change. However, given the mode’s crucial role in the global economy, and its expediency, finding a solution requires a balancing act. For perspective, a typical economy-class New York-to-Los Angeles round-trip produces about 1,574 pounds of CO2 per person, according to ICAO. (That’s also the volume of CO2 the author of this article generates over the course of 2.5 months living in Seattle – when he’s not flying.)

Airlines are perhaps the strongest proponent of meaningful change. In June 2016, an overwhelming majority of IATA member airlines reiterated the importance of implementing a “single, global and mandatory carbon offset scheme be implemented from 2020,” the organization noted.

Tony Tyler, IATA’s director general and CEO, explained that, “With improvements to technology, operations and infrastructure and the deployment of sustainable alternative fuels, we are delivering results against our climate change commitments. However, to achieve carbon-neutral growth from 2020, we also need a mandatory global carbon offset scheme.”

In order for the measure to pass, a majority of member states, each entitled to one vote on matters before the assembly, will have to pass the measure. If the measure passes, CORSIA will be implemented as follows:

  • 2021 to 2023 – a voluntary pilot phase for countries that choose to be part of the scheme.
  • 2022 – a review will be conducted, to determine if there will need to be any adjustments to CORSIA before the scheme continues.
  • 2024 to 2026 – the first implementation phase, on a voluntary basis.
  • 2027 to 2035 – the second phase, which will include most states (exempting under-developed countries, small island states and any country with a small amount of international air traffic).

Critics of the deal claim that the above schedule moves too slowly. “We do not feel a pilot phase is necessary, because airlines and other aircraft operators will be ready and able to commence the scheme from 2020,” said the Geneva-based Air Transport Action Group. “Offsetting is not a new concept. Indeed, a large number of airlines already offer offsetting to passengers on a voluntary basis.”  However, with states such as Canada, Mexico, the U.S. and China on board, the measure stands a good chance of passing, and IATA’s optimism, even if it is qualified, seems to be well founded.

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