Aviation offsetting deal is a weak start – now countries must go further
Today’s decision to offset but not reduce CO2 emissions from aircraft, and on a voluntary basis, is a weak start which must be followed with more effective measures by states to rein in aviation emissions, Transport & Environment (T&E) has said. The deal’s coverage of emissions falls well short of the ‘carbon neutral growth in 2020’ target promised by UN aviation body ICAO and industry, and the lack of clear rules for offsets presents a clear risk to the measure’s environmental effectiveness.
At the last minute states also quietly dropped plans to align ICAO policies with the Paris agreement’s 1.5/2°C warming limit just a day after that agreement crossed its threshold to enter into force.
The decision in Montreal will see airlines in participating countries emit increasing amounts of CO2 so long as the carriers pay for offsetting projects in other sectors. ICAO still has not agreed on the contentious environmental criteria to ensure offsets have a climate impact, such as whether they are ‘double counted’ or whether the emissions reductions would have happened anyway. Furthermore the coverage of emissions growth may total between 75-80%, but only 20% of total aircraft CO2 emissions between 2021 and 2035 will be offset , shifting the burden onto other sectors to do more if global warming is to be limited at 1.5/2°C, as was agreed in Paris last year.
Speaking in Montreal, T&E aviation director Bill Hemmings said: “Airline claims that flying will now be green are a myth. Taking a plane is the fastest and cheapest way to fry the planet and this deal won’t reduce demand for jet fuel one drop. Instead offsetting aims to cut emissions in other industries.”
ICAO and the aviation industry must finalise and implement robust criteria for offsets and then develop further measures if we are to have any hope of limiting global warming to 1.5°C. This week’s ratification of the Paris climate agreement also means countries and regions – starting with large historical emitters like Europe and the US – must introduce additional measures to close aviation’s ambition gap. In Europe, the EU’s emissions trading system (ETS) needs to be strengthened and aviation stripped of its harmful privileges.
Bill Hemmings added: “Today is not mission accomplished for ICAO, Europe or industry. The world needs more than voluntary agreements. Without robust environmental safeguards the offsets won’t cut emissions, leaving us with a deal that amounts to little more than adding the price of a cup of coffee to a ticket.”
T&E is an observer to the ICAO talks as part of the ICSA coalition of environmental NGOs, which said “critical work” remains to be done to ensure environmental integrity and broad participation. International aviation and shipping were not explicitly mentioned in the Paris agreement. ICAO’s decision today still leaves it unclear how aviation will or intends to meet its reduction commitments. Aviation is currently responsible for an estimated 5% of global warming. Aircraft CO2 alone is projected to quadruple and will potentially account for 22% of all CO2 emitted globally in 2050.
Note to editors:
 Forthcoming analysis to be published by T&E.