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with Peter Vis
Aviation is a sector which is not performing well from a climate change point of view and the trends, as indicated before, are going upwards. This is a graph that shows how rapidly aviation emissions are in the period from 2004 to 2019. So, there’s got to be something more done than is done today. And this is another graph about aviation emissions, which quantifies the amount of fuel, jet fuel per year per capita and it shows that per capita the United States consumes much more fuel than the world average. And indeed, countries like China and India, although they are big countries, per capita their emissions, or their fuel use and therefore their emissions from aviation, are much lower.
And this just demonstrates, first of all, that with wealth emissions tends to increase, we travel more if we can afford to travel more, but it’s also unsustainable because if one could imagine a world in which China and India have comparable emissions per capita to the United States, then clearly there is going to be an enormous increase of emissions. But there is an issue here about fairness, which is of course very important because aviation is linked to economic development and nobody wants to prevent the economic development of developing economies, as well as the developed world. But we’ve got to do measures and so what is being done?
Well, at the international level, international civil aviation is regulated by the UN Agency that is called the International Civil Aviation Organization and is based in Montréal, in Canada.
Aviation as a sector is not strictly covered by the Kyoto Protocol, which was in application ‘till 2020, and this perhaps is a product of the fact that it was an agency founded in 1940s and it was an agency that, competence was primarily to regulate air traffic and air safety, air security, those sorts of issues and environment was a relatively latecomer into the mandate of the ICAO. It’s got goals with respect to climate change, ICAO’s goal is to stabilize aviation emissions at 2020 levels and indeed to halve those emissions by 2050.
However, there is a however, stabilization would actually be achieved through the offsetting of emissions, that is to say by the aviation industry buying credits that represent reductions of greenhouse gas emissions in projects on the ground, So, in another words, they would be paying to comply with the environmental goals by buying these credits and they would argue perhaps that the emissions that are being caused by aviation are being compensated for by reductions achieved elsewhere, but it’s still a fact that aviation’s emissions are considerable, and CORSIA, which is the name, the acronym for this particular offsetting scheme, only addresses CO2 emissions and there are indeed other emissions, other gases that are contributing to global warming from aviation which are not yet regulated.
And the CO2 that the European Union has continually tried to urge ambition on ICAO and at one stage the European Union included aviation into the EU Emissions Trading System and included all flights to and from Europe in the system but that proved to be highly contentious with other countries, non-European countries who objected to the fact that we were regulating emissions that were taking place outside Europe. And so, in the light of political pressure exerted on the European Union, it was decided to constrain the scope of aviation’s inclusion into the Emissions Trading System to only include intra-European flights and that is what prevails today.
However, there is, as I just mentioned, this offsetting system that is foreseen up by ICAO for aviation and that’s, if you like, the base years have been adjusted actually to only include 2019 for the first pilot phase, which starts in 2021 and runs to 2023. As you can see, it’s a voluntary phase, as is the first phase through 2024 to 2026 still voluntary and, as of 2027, this is supposedly a mandatory regime applicable to all civil aviation but there are lots of exemptions, for example, the least developed countries.
So, it’s a system which is beginning in phases voluntarily and it’s only actually applicable if both the country of departure and the country of arrival are volunteering to be in CORSIA, if one or other of those two parties is not volunteering to be in the scope, the provision doesn’t apply to any flights between those two countries. So, it’s a very slow start, if I may say so. There is a list of approved offset programs that, you know, can generate the credits that might be used by aviation, the liability is only for emissions in excess of 2019.
That was before the Covid epidemic arose and it’s going to mean that it’s only going to cover a small share of emissions initially because growth since 2019 will be small. It’s never going to cover the emissions that were represented by aviation until 2019. So, it’s only partial in its coverage. As a whole, the share that has to be accounted for is based on the global growth of aviation in the period up to 2030 and, as I have already mentioned, there are wide exemptions for the least developed countries. So, you know, if one or other destination or country of arrival is one of those, it’s not applicable.
ICAO believes that CORSIA, this offsetting system should be the only global market-based mechanism applicable to civil aviation and they, obviously ICAO would like to avoid a fragmentation of regulation across the world but I think that isn’t the case. Many countries are applying measures to aviation, including the European Union, which is going to continue applying the Emissions Trading System to any flights within Europe and it will only apply CORSIA to flights to third countries that are also covered by CORSIA. So, the fact is that a global system isn’t going to necessarily be the only measure that is applied in every jurisdiction.
Some countries are going to choose to continue to apply passenger taxes, for example, or they might tax the kerosene that is used by aircraft and this de facto is there, they can do so and some will do so and that is CORSIA is not going to be the only mechanism that is used to reduce the emissions from the aviation sector. In the EU, as I mentioned, we’ve already got aviation covered by the Emissions Trading System and we have, initially we started covering all flights to and from the EU.
Due to the international reaction, hostile reaction to that measure, the scope of it was reduced to just intra-European flights and the stringency now applied to those flights is that an increasing number of allowances will be auctioned. In other words, aviation companies will have to buy those allowances from government, pay for them and the revenues can be used for many other purposes by government. And then CORSIA will apply only for countries where EU, flights from the EU to some other country in the world that is already in CORSIA.
So, it’s going to start as a complementary measure to the Emissions Trading System in Europe and over time we’ll have to see if this delivers the environmental outcome that we hope, but it’s very unlikely that this measure alone will be anything like enough.

In this video, Peter explains the issues related to the emissions procuded by the aviation sector, what the international community has done so far to regulate those emissions and what actions were taken by the EU.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is a UN specialized agency, established by States in 1944 to manage the administration and governance of the Convention on International Civil Aviation.

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