London — Airlines could save an estimated $15 billion in carbon offsetting costs if the International Civil Aviation Organisation uses 2019 to calculate aviation's CO2 emissions baseline, an official with the International Air Transport Association said Tuesday.
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Sticking to the original plan to use an average of 2019 and 2020 emissions as the baseline could inflate airlines' bill for buying offset credits, because the coronavirus and government lockdowns have massively reduced the sector's emissions this year.
"We've gone to ICAO and said 2019 emissions should be used," IATA's director of aviation and environment Michael Gill said in a webinar Tuesday.
The ICAO's Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation requires airlines to buy carbon offsets to cover any CO2 emissions above a 2019-20 baseline. Since the industry had been expected to grow at around 3% a year, this would gradually increase the volume of offsets that airlines would have to buy over time.
CORSIA's original baseline had been designed to include an average of 2019 and 2020 emissions to avoid an unusual year from distorting the system's benchmark, Gill said.
"By taking an average, it was hoped it would avoid the impact of an unusually good or unusually bad year," said Gill.
However, the pandemic has smashed the sector's expected 2020 emissions back to 1995 levels, and the final emissions output for the year is still uncertain, he said. Therefore using 2019 only would avoid creating an unusually difficult baseline for the system, he said.
IATA published a position paper in April calling for the adjusted baseline, and has now asked ICAO to make the change.
"If ICAO does what we have suggested, it could avoid $15 billion of additional offsetting costs, so it's very important that ICAO gets this right," he said.
ICAO is expected to make a decision on the emissions baseline within a month, he added.
In March, the ICAO Council approved a number of carbon offsetting systems to supply CORSIA with eligible offset units.
Those included emissions credits from the American Carbon Registry; the China GHG Voluntary Emission Reduction Program; the UN's Clean Development Mechanism; the Climate Action Reserve; The Gold Standard; and the Verified Carbon Standard.
The internationally-agreed CORSIA system regulates CO2 emissions from international flights, while emissions from domestic flights fall under the responsibility of national governments.