The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Carbon Offsetting Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) allows airlines to contribute towards the aviation industry’s goal of carbon neutral growth from 2020 onwards by financing greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions outside of the aviation sector.
To fully comply with CORSIA, most airlines covered by CORSIA will need to purchase emission reductions. This is because air travel is expected to continue growing globally, and the corresponding increase in greenhouse gas emissions will likely outpace emission reductions achieved through efficiency and other means. Many airlines already offer GHG offsets to interested customers, including through forest conservation which is tangible and popular with airline customers. More specifically, leading airlines such as Air Canada, Delta Air Lines, Kenya Airways, Qantas and United Airlines enable their passengers to voluntarily offset emissions from their flights with forest conservation and restoration activities.
One of the most cost-effective ways for airlines to reduce their emissions is by conserving and restoring forests in developing countries. The international community, acting through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), has created a policy framework to promote emission reductions from the forest sector, commonly called “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation” (REDD+). REDD+ is also an important ingredient in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. While the policy framework for REDD+ already exists, the economic incentives for action have been limited, and thus haven’t yet significantly affected deforestation and forest restoration trends in most tropical forest countries.
For airlines under CORSIA, the REDD+ framework represents an opportunity for high quality and relatively low cost offsets with real and marketable co-benefits of interest to passengers. Moreover, REDD+ is readily scalable. If correctly designed, CORSIA could provide airlines with high quality forest emission reductions at an industry scale. Using REDD+ in the right way to meet CORSIA obligations, however, would require airlines to update the way in which they access forest carbon credits.
Early investment can drive REDD+ action on the ground. Airlines could mobilize action by announcing that they would support REDD+ programs that are eligible for CORSIA compliance. These aspects demonstrate the opportunity for airlines in supporting REDD+.
Based on these findings, this report offers the following recommendations to airlines: