EU urged to stand firm on aircraft emissions

NGOs working on aviation’s climate impact have called on the European Commission to reject industry demands to hastily sign up to the controversial ‘Corsia’ carbon offsetting scheme for international aviation. T&E is warning that such a move is both against EU law, and threatens the only effective measure currently in place to address aviation emissions.

Since the first international treaty on reducing greenhouse gases was signed in 1997, countries have worked through the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), a UN agency, to address aviation emissions. However, no state or bloc has been able to advance any measures through ICAO. In 2012, the EU included emissions from flights within Europe in its emissions trading system (ETS), and, after years of difficulty, the ETS is starting to deliver an increasingly effective carbon price which should soon make an important contribution to addressing the sector’s climate impact.

In 2016, ICAO’s general assembly agreed a Carbon Offsets and Reduction Scheme in International Aviation (Corsia) to come into effect in 2021. Its aim is to stabilise net emissions from aviation at 2020 levels – a level of ambition that puts it behind EU climate goals. It also relies on offsetting – a mechanism which is increasingly discredited and which otherwise would not form part of European climate policy after 2021.

A first version of the Corsia rules was finalised in June. States have until 1 December to object, or the rules become binding under international law. Once in operation, Corsia threatens to invalidate other, more effective measures such as the ETS. That’s why industry is lobbying the Commission to accept the Corsia rules without reservation.

Now a trio of NGOs working on aviation’s climate impact – T&E, Aviation Environment Federation and Carbon Market Watch – has written to the Commission, calling on it to protect aviation as part of the ETS. Their letter says current legislation forbids Europe from responding to the Corsia rules until a formal review has been carried into whether Corsia will deliver any level of environmental effectiveness. They therefore call on the Commission to object to the draft rules, as failure to reserve Europe’s position by the 1 December deadline could limit Europe’s right to regulate.

T&E’s aviation manager Andrew Murphy said: ‘Corsia is essentially an attempt by industry to dismantle the only effective measure in place to address aviation emissions – emissions trading under the ETS – and replace it with a weak and uncertain Corsia. The motivation is clear: emissions trading is working, but as the rules for Corsia get close to finalisation they are being weakened to the point where Corsia will have next to no environmental benefit. As aviation emissions soar, it’s vital the Commission stands up for Europe’s right to take effective action, and does not allow the ETS to be replaced by the increasingly worthless Corsia.’

The 2017 revision to the ETS directive (Regulation 2017/2392) requires the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament to undertake a review of Corsia before determining whether or how to implement it in Europe.