Special Report: Airlines balk at paying for a second carbon scheme

Special Report: Airlines balk at paying for a second carbon scheme

Efforts to reduce airline emissions growth are about to be stepped up, but not everyone is happy. By Ian Taylor

Europe’s airlines must prepare to join a global carbon-offset scheme from January aimed at cutting the growth in overall emissions.

But the EC will retain its emissions trading scheme (ETS) on all flights within Europe despite airline complaints that they will have to pay twice for emissions growth. Brexit will make no difference as UK carriers will have to comply on EU flights.

The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) agreed a global carbon-offset scheme – the Carbon Offset and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (Corsia) – last October. From 2021, this should see participating airlines paying to offset all emissions above the level of 2020.

Airline association Iata backs the scheme, as does the Airlines for Europe (A4E) group which includes easyJet, Ryanair and British Airways parent IAG. But they want the EU to drop its scheme.

The EC has refused. Rasa Sceponaviciute, of the EC directorate general for Climate Action, told a Hill Dickinson seminar in London: “Corsia is a start, but we still don’t know how it will work. Stabilising aviation emissions from 2020 does not seem very ambitious.”

Sceponaviciute argued the EC scheme had “encouraged ICAO on this” and criticised the use of offsetting for emissions reduction, saying: “We stopped accepting offsets into the ETS because we don’t trust them. Some [offset] projects do not deliver reductions.”

Airlines have been part of the EU scheme since 2012. They must report and verify emissions within the EU and trade ‘allowances’ on a carbon market. However, the scheme is limited to flights within Europe because of opposition from beyond, led by the US and China.

Andy Jefferson, programme director for the industry’s Sustainable Aviation coalition, said there need to be “urgent conversations between airlines and governments” over the requirement for carriers to pay for both the EU and Corsia schemes.

Jefferson acknowledged UK aviation emissions account for 6% of the country’s carbon footprint, but he said: “We believe we can double aviation in the UK by 2050 without increasing [net] emissions.”

Iata environment policy manager Michel Adam said: “We see the need to reduce emissions, but we need to be realistic. We’re not going to cap gross emissions by 2020 and maintain growth. Corsia will invest in projects that reduce emissions elsewhere.”

He said airlines regard the EU scheme “as a tax” and need a global scheme “because they don’t want to have to report to 100 different authorities”.

Sceponaviciute said that for Corsia to work, “there have to be regular reviews”, adding: “Emissions reductions need to be real, permanent and additional.”

She acknowledged the monitoring required of European airlines “will be burdensome”, but said: “Transparency is key. Airlines have to report data and everyone has to be able to see it.”

Adam argued: “Aviation is a compliance-driven industry and airlines tend to be obsessed with reducing fuel. But if you name and shame operators we fear states will run away from ICAO.”

Corsia is due to be introduced in phases. The UK and other EU states are among 68 countries to sign up for the initial, voluntary phase from 2021. Airlines must start monitoring their emissions from January 2018 in preparation.

Iata has acknowledged: “Passengers will meet the costs [of Corsia].”

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