Transparency is Key to Reducing Aviation Pollution

By Anthony Mansell
Climate & Energy

Amid the recent gloom that surrounds climate change policy, one positive development from last year has flown under the radar. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) agreed to launch a Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA).  Their plan would cap the carbon dioxide pollution from flights between participating countries starting in 2021 and running until 2035.  

This means airlines will need to cancel 2.5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions – the equivalent of 5.7 billion barrels of oil unburned, six billion miles not driven or more than 700 coal-fired power plants turned off for an entire year. Offsetting these emissions is a tall order, and therefore designing an effective CORSIA is imperative.

One key area is making CORSIA a transparent marketplace. This includes four elements.

First, each participating airline should publicly report their annual emissions against their targets. This is standard practice in existing environmental markets, including U.S efforts such as the Sulfur Dioxide Trading Program and the cap-and-trade programs in California and the northeast region (known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). Making this information available has not led to any competitive disadvantage for companies, but instead lets the public know whether companies are complying with CORSIA.

Second, airlines should accompany annual emissions reporting with public disclosure of the volume and source of the  offsets they have purchased. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) annually releases a compliance report that includes the number and type of offsets each company has purchased offsets. CORSIA should follow this best practice.

Third, CORSIA ought to run a public, open process for determining what does – and does not – count as an offset. Giving public notice to offset standards and other emission reduction programs to apply and make the case for their inclusion will lead to the broadest supply of high integrity offsets – which reduces the costs to airlines and consumers. CORSIA looks beyond aviation to reduce emissions, and it should hear from experts from all these other sectors.

Finally, it is critical that airlines take action to ensure that their emissions reductions are used once, without being double-counted in other carbon markets. Failure to address this would mean that some offsets under CORSIA are not really reducing emissions, undermining confidence and trust in the program.

CORSIA represents an exciting step in the long fight against climate change; a first sector-wide market approach in a sector with one of the fastest growth rates in emissions. Getting the rules right is critical to keep moving the ball forward in aviation’s efforts to reduce emissions. Transparency is central to a functioning market, and not something that should be overlooked.


Ensuring Transparency in CORSIA

May 2017

In a promising development for climate protection, in 2016 the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) committed to launch, by 2021, a Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA). CORSIA will limit the net carbon dioxide emissions of flights between participating countries to 2020 levels, and will require airlines to procure emission reductions achieved elsewhere to “offset” their emissions above these levels. Forecasts indicate that airlines will need to offset some 2.5 billion metric tons of emissions from 2021 to 2035 – and potentially more if CORSIA’s ambition is strengthened.

This paper will outline some experiences drawn from existing carbon markets that exhibit high standards of transparency and public reporting, briefly explain how establishing such standards for CORSIA is in the self-interest of all stakeholders, and provide recommendations for transparency in CORSIA.

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On June 12, 2017

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