A global agreement designed to tackle airline emissions could actually undermine climate efforts, according to an EU study obtained by Transport & Environment (T&E).¹ The Corsia deal, under which airlines can pay to offset growth of carbon pollution, is “unlikely to materially alter” the climate impact of air travel, it finds. T&E said the UK government cannot rely on the ineffective UN offsetting scheme. Instead, it should pursue policies that ensure UK aviation becomes a world leader in decarbonization technologies.
The study finds:
- Regulating airline pollution with Corsia alone is the worst option. “This option is associated with the biggest global net aviation CO2 emissions increase …” (p26)
- Corsia “risks undermining the ability to reach net-zero emissions by mid-century” if it replaces existing climate regulations. (p17)
- It’s questionable whether the carbon offsets actually deliver emissions reductions. “None” of the approved offsetting programs meet all the required criteria. (p18)
- At less than 90p each, carbon offsets will be too cheap to deter airlines from growing their emissions.  (p20). There is currently an excess supply of carbon offsets due to a weakening of the Corsia rules following industry lobbying last year, with three times as much supply than demand.
- There is little chance of these issues being resolved. For example, the quality of offsets will not improve: “… the scope for delivering high quality credited emission reductions will decline.” (p48)
The UK government will soon decide whether or not to accept the recommendation of its independent climate advisors, the Climate Change Committee, to formally include emissions from international aviation and shipping in future carbon budgets. This would open the door to domestic action to reduce emissions alongside Corsia. How to manage the UK’s aviation greenhouse gas emissions within the UK’s 2050 net-zero target is creating a major headache for the Department for Transport, which appears to have removed proposals to cut aviation emissions from its long overdue Transport Decarbonisation Plan.
Matt Finch, UK policy manager at T&E, said:
“We have wasted almost a decade designing an international airline CO2 scheme which is actually bad for the climate. Airlines will pay less than a pound to buy carbon offsets that won’t work. This study definitely demonstrates that Corsia is incompatible with the Government’s climate change ambitions. To rectify this, the Government should take full responsibility for UK aviation’s greenhouse gas emissions and incorporate them into our future climate budgets. “
Matt Finch concluded:
“The Government should forget about relying on the UN to properly address airline emissions. Offsetting clearly won’t work. Instead, the UK has a golden chance to become a world leader in both sustainable aviation fuel and zero-emission aircraft production. It would be foolish not to seize this opportunity.”
¹The unpublished EU study was obtained by T&E via an ‘access to documents’ request.
²The study shows that a majority of credits eligible for Corsia are trading at prices under € 1 (page 144).