Airlines will pay next to nothing for their pollution

Airlines urging the EU to drop aviation from its carbon market would face minimal costs for their pollution under the UN’s CO2 offsetting scheme. A new study finds carriers would pay at most €70 million a year for their pollution on long-haul flights from Europe - even after air traffic bounces back - under the controversial programme known as Corisa.

The offsetting scheme would add up to 17c, on average, to the ticket price for long-haul trips outbound from Europe. Offsetting is when companies pay others to reduce their emissions while they continue polluting. But research by the European Commission has shown that the vast majority of offsets do not deliver emissions reductions. The EU will decide next year how it will participate in Corsia while also reforming its emissions trading system for aviation.

So far this year carriers have received tens of billions in bailouts. Yet this climate measure would amount to only 0.2% of their operating costs. T&E, which commissioned the study, said the almost non-existent price for airline pollution shows why the EU should concentrate on strengthening its own carbon market for aviation.

T&E’s aviation manager, Jo Dardenne, said: ‘The UN’s offsetting scheme won’t make airline polluters change their behaviour one bit. Carriers received billions in taxpayers’ money this year and will pay tiny amounts for offsets which won’t even reduce emissions. The EU should improve its own carbon market, which is a much more effective way of reducing aviation pollution.’

The demand for Corsia offsets will be 50% lower than originally expected for 2021-2030, the study also finds. This is mainly because of the decision by the UN aviation body, ICAO, to bow to industry pressure and change the baseline to emissions levels in 2019 only. Airlines were originally supposed to buy offsets for their emissions above average 2019-2020 levels, but this was opportunistically watered down at the height of the Covid crisis.

Jo Dardenne concluded: ‘Airlines used the Covid crisis to waterdown what was already a weak CO2 scheme. The European Commission needs to bring in other ways of making airlines change their ways, such as a kerosene tax and requirements to use sustainable jet fuel, as well as an improved EU carbon market.”

Airlines’ carbon emissions grew 1.5% overall within Europe last year and have risen 27.6% since 2013, far outpacing any other transport mode. Globally, aviation is responsible for 5% of global warming.