Airlines define clear rules for carbon-neutral flights

Last March 13th, airlines defined clear rules for carbon neutrality flights. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a UN aviation body, agreed to accept carbon offsets from six existing offset programmes. ICAO decided also to limit the age of credits used based on an expert report from the so-called “Technical Advisory Body” (TAB).

Let me give you some background,

ICAO: Promoting aviation and airport sustainability

The ICAO in 2016 set an “aspirational goal” to make growth in international flights after 2020 carbon neutral.

For achieving such a carbon-neutral flights goal, the organization created a Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation CORSIA, as a mechanism where airlines are required to buy carbon offsets to compensate for their growth in CO2 emissions.

Carbon offsets, or also called carbon credits or carbon units, are generated through the implementation of carbon reduction projects usually in developing countries, with many of them producing other side benefits such as delivering health, economic and biodiversity benefits to communities.

The scheme is voluntary from 2021 to 2026 and 81 states representing 76.6% of international aviation activity have expressed their intention to voluntarily participate in CORSIA from its creation.

The failure last December 2019 to agree on strong rules to prevent double-counting at the UN climate change conference in Madrid (COP25), had put the UN aviation body in a difficult situation.

Airlines Carbon Emissions

The announcement

The announcement specifies that CORSIA will only recognize credits from projects starting after 2016 and where the emission reductions must continue through 2020.

Besides only projects developed according to the following registries will be allowed:

  1. American Carbon Registry 
  2. China GHG Voluntary Emission Reduction Program 
  3. Clean Development Mechanism 
  4. Climate Action Reserve 
  5. The Gold Standard 
  6. Verified Carbon Standard 

2019 and 2020 average emissions will be used as a baseline to measure emissions growth. With thousands of flights grounded because of the coronavirus outbreak and sustainability trends among passengers ( read trends for 2020 at ), airlines would need to compensate much more emissions than was expected.

Some experts such as Annie Petsonk, EDF International Counsel, applaud this new announcement since it is made in a moment of “extreme stress for the industry”.

“At a time of extreme stress for the industry, aviation has stood by its commitment to grapple with the climate crisis even as it deals with the immediate tragedy of COVID-19. That is a demonstration of real leadership.

Annie Petsonk, EDF International Counsel

Some Reflections

Aviation produces about 2% of all human-induced carbon dioxide (CO2emissions and ICAO expect that those emissions will grow 300% by 2050.

Setting an absolute emissions growth cap and defining a minimum offset quality criteria is a great example for other carbon-intensive industries to follow and a good base for discussions heading to next UN’s Conference Of the Parties COP26 in November in Glasgow.

The resolution leaves offsets with quite wide quality spectrum but many airlines would probably voluntary choose mid/high-quality projects and even compensate more than the emissions growth to match their consumers’ expectations.

The airline industry needs to do more work for achieving sustainable flying, but the ICAO’s Council decision provides the right step in the right direction and sets an example for the global climate talks.

Find more information at ICAO’s communication