IATA starts discussions with ICAO on changing the CORSIA baseline to exclude 2020 emissions
Tue 21 Apr 2020 – As IATA’s regular updates on the Covid-19 impact on the air transport industry become increasingly pessimistic, many analysts are warning of an extended crisis with global air traffic not returning to previous levels for some years. IATA has raised its previous forecast on industry losses in 2020 by 25% to $314 billion and a near halving of passenger traffic (RPKs) and capacity. The airline industry body has already started discussions with ICAO on changing the CORSIA baseline to avoid including 2020 emissions in the calculation, which would lead to an increased offset purchasing requirement during the course of the 15-year scheme. Both the EU and the US have shown some sympathy with the request. However, the European mood is that airlines should not escape their climate responsibilities as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and that aid should come with strings attached.
The CORSIA baseline is to be calculated as the average of the emissions from international flights for 2019 and 2020, designed to iron out minor fluctuations between the two years. A forecasted 45% reduction in capacity in 2020 compared with 2019 would have a major impact on the baseline that would impose an economic burden on the industry, said IATA in a recent position paper.
An IATA spokesperson told GreenAir the trade body had spoken with a senior representative from the ICAO secretariat about its proposal to use only emissions from 2019 as the baseline. He said it was his understanding that ICAO “wanted to understand IATA’s position better”.
Any change to the baseline calculation would have to be approved by ICAO’s governing Council, which is next due to meet in session in June. IATA is keen for a decision to be made by then as it may impact the willingness of certain countries to join the voluntary pilot phase starting next year.
The early signs are that major participating countries are open to the move. An FAA official familiar with the CORSIA process at ICAO told GreenAir: “Changes to the baseline are highly likely once there’s a chance to review the situation and those can be done without disrupting CORSIA’s rollout.”
EU Transport Commissioner Adina Vălean told EURACTIV that Europe had to implement CORSIA “to show that we are true to our word” and added “I’m sympathetic towards airlines because I know how hard the industry has been hit and we need to maintain its competitiveness. If discussions evolve, we’ll take stock of them.”
Prior to the global crisis, IATA forecast CORSIA would mitigate around 2.5 billion tonnes of CO2 between 2021 and 2035, an annual average of 164 million tonnes. ICAO’s own previous analysis estimated the industry would need to offset around a total of 104 million tonnes of CO2 in the 2021-2023 pilot phase, rising to 216 million tonnes in the 2024-2026 first phase.
Among the various fuel sectors, oil consultancy Rystad Energy expects jet fuel to be hit the hardest by the pandemic, with global demand falling by almost 31% year-on-year, from an average 7.2 million barrels per day in 2019 to around 5 million bpd. It forecasts demand in April to be as low as 2.6 bpd and in May 2.4 million bpd. Jet fuel prices in Singapore have fallen by 61% over the last two months.
Jet fuel consumption may not recover fully even in 2021 as travellers remain concerned about long-haul vacations and businesses get used to online meetings, said Per Magnus Nysveen, Rystad’s Head of Analysis.
According to an IATA analysis in December, global carbon emissions in 2019 – from domestic as well as international flights – totalled an estimated 915 million tonnes, with a projection of 936 million tonnes in 2020. IATA is now estimating a fall this year in terms of capacity – aircraft movements – in the order of 45%, suggesting global emissions in 2020 from the sector could amount to around 500 million tonnes in total.
In 2015, around 65% of global aviation fuel consumption was from international aviation, a proportion which ICAO expects to remain stable out to 2050. CORSIA does not cover emissions from domestic aviation, which are the responsibility of individual States under the Paris Agreement.
A further outcome of the pandemic for CORSIA, although to some extent this may have happened anyway, is that a number of countries have extended the deadline for airlines and other aircraft operators reporting their CO2 emissions for 2019 to their national authority.
The official date is May 31 – just over a month’s time – but in some countries the deadline is earlier, for example Mauritius (March 31), Ukraine (May 1) and the Philippines (May 8). Operators based in Hong Kong, which is administered by China, have to meet a deadline of April 30. Countries that have postponed the deadline include Australia (June 30), Mexico and the United States (July 31) and Canada (October 31).
Numerous operators are still working to complete the reporting and verification process by the end of May deadline despite the pandemic, reported Verifavia, a leader in CORSIA emissions verification.
“We strongly encourage operators to continue and complete the process as originally planned,” said Verifavia CEO Julien Dufour. “If people are working from home with a good internet connection, and with access to their company’s systems and databases, then there should be no problem to complete the process. However, in case this is not possible, we recommend operators contact their CORSIA administering authority to request an extension of the deadline.”
Dufour said despite reports to the contrary, it is not a requirement for operators to have their emissions verified on site. “Our CORSIA verification team is working full time and remains fully committed and operational around the world – working from home – to answer queries, perform verification activities and ensure operators meet the CORSIA compliance timeframe,” he said. “We have developed remote verification techniques for all our aviation customers, including the use of basic audio and video conferencing facilities as required.”
He confirmed that many operators are concerned about the baseline implications of using 2020 emissions.
In her EURACTIV interview, EU Commissioner Vălean said the pandemic crisis was the wrong time to condition state aid for airlines on green measures. She was responding to a recent open letter from 250 NGOs, trade unions and academics, mostly European, demanding governments embed social and environmental conditions into bailouts for the industry, as well as imposing taxes on jet kerosene and frequent flyer levies.
“Raising these conditions now is not necessarily something I would support,” she said. “When talking about investments in greening measures while companies are facing bankruptcy, we need to have more caution.”
One of the authors of the letter, Magdalena Heuwieser of Stay Grounded, a network of 150 organisations worldwide, said: “For decades, the aviation industry has avoided contributing meaningfully to global climate goals and resisted the merest suggestion of taxes on fuel or tickets. Now airlines, airport and manufacturers are demanding huge and unconditional taxpayer-backed bailouts. We cannot let the aviation industry get away with privatising profits in the good times and expect the public to pay for its losses in the bad times.”
Added Andrew Murphy, Aviation Director at Transport & Environment: “EU governments should make airline bailouts conditional on carriers paying fuel, ticket and other taxes once the crisis has passed. They should also require airlines to start using low-carbon fuels once conditions improve. Public money should support the technologies of the future to help combat the next looming global crisis, climate change, and not reinforce the mistakes of the past.”
T&E has revealed that Europe’s largest low-cost carrier Ryanair, which in 2018 became the first airline to join the top ten list of emitters within the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS), climbed up the table last year to seventh place as a result of a 5.9% increase in emissions. Airline carbon emissions grew 1.5% overall in 2019, it said, in contrast to other sectors covered by the EU ETS, which declined 8.9% overall.
“Airline emissions continued their upward trajectory while other sectors continued to decarbonise,” said Murphy. “That trend will resume post-crisis unless governments act now to rein in their pollution.”
Former EU Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete agrees that taxpayer help for airlines hit by the current crisis should come with conditions. “It must be conditional, otherwise when we recover we will see the same or higher levels of carbon dioxide [from flying],” he told The Guardian.
Pascal Canfin, French MEP and Chair of the European Parliament’s environment committee (ENVI), said in a tweet: “If the state is to save Air France-KLM, it must be done for reasons of sovereignty. But this must be accompanied by a commitment to define an ecological transition contract for the company because public money must not only be used to save but also to transform.”
The Austrian government is reported to be in talks with Austrian Airlines’ parent Lufthansa over the conditions of aid to the subsidiary, which may cover action on climate protection. Options could include a pledge to reduce short-haul flights, increased cooperation with rail companies, heavier use of sustainable fuels and bigger tax contributions. It makes a lot of sense to use this situation to support this transformation, said Austria’s environment minister, a member of the Green party.
Plans though to implement flight taxes by France and the Netherlands this year are reported to have been postponed.