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Carbon Accounting Takes to the Skies

The Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation

New Trajectory for International Aviation

International aviation is responsible for approximately 2% of global CO2 emissions, with 3.8 billion passengers taking flight in 2016. A recently released forecast from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) reveled that passenger numbers are expected to double to 7.8 billion by 2036. The challenge to the aviation industry is how to manage this exponential growth without contributing to global warming and major disruptions in climate and hydrology cycles.

In 2009, the member states of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) announced their global climate action plan, which consists of three global goals - the most ambitious being a commitment for international aviation to achieve carbon neutral growth from 2020 onwards. In other words, after 2020, there will be no increase in net carbon emissions from international aviation.

Stabilizing the growth in emissions from air travel will require great innovation from the industry through efficiencies, new technology advancements and alternative fuels. Recognizing that new innovations require years to complete R&D and commercialize, ICAO has adopted a global market-based measure for aviation emissions, known as CORSIA, the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation.

What is CORSIA

As the name suggests, CORSIA is a carbon offsetting scheme to assist international airlines in neutralizing direct aviation emissions. Carbon offsetting allows a company to compensate for its emissions by financing a reduction in emissions elsewhere – providing an effective option for sectors where the potential for further emissions reductions is currently limited. For greenhouse gas reduction projects, carbon offsets create a funding mechanism to overcome financial barriers such as long payback periods or low overall returns on investment. As examples, carbon offsets can help conservation efforts of vast forested lands, funding for alternative energy solutions in impoverished countries, or shifting from polluting to clean technology solutions.

To meet ICAO’s goal of carbon neutral growth from 2020 onwards, airlines will purchase carbon offsets for emissions that exceed 2020 baseline levels. In participating states, international aviation’s net emissions will be flat-lined, while other emissions-reducing measures, such as fuel switching and new technologies, are developed and refined.

CORSIA only applies to international aviation, as reducing emissions from domestic aviation is covered under the Paris Agreement and is the responsibility of governments and the UNFCC. Least developed countries, small island developing states, and landlocked developing countries (as defined by the United Nations) are exempt from CORSIA, unless they volunteer to participate.

Phased-In Approach

CORSIA operates using a phased-in approach and state participation in the first phase (2021-2026) of the scheme is voluntary. As of January 2018, however, 73 states have already volunteered, who together make up 87.7% of global aviation (and include Canada, US, and most of Europe). After 2027, all states whose individual share of global aviation is greater that 0.5% are required to participate.

What Emissions are Included?

CORSIA uses a route-based approach. Only emissions from flights where both the origin and destination countries are part of CORSIA, are included in the scheme (e.g. Canada to US flights are included, whereas Canada to Greenland flights are not included). Knowing the participating countries and routes, the offsetting requirements of individual airline operators are calculated.

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“2036 Forecast Reveals Air Passengers Will Nearly Double to 7.8 Billion”. IATA. http://www.iata.org/pressroom/pr/Pages/2017-10-24-01.aspx

“Fact Sheet. Climate Change & CORSIA”. IATA. https://www.iata.org/pressroom/facts_figures/fact_sheets/Documents/fact-sheet-climate-change.pdf

United Nations- Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States,


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