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April 24, 2020
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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. 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 2020. 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 in 2021. The early signs are that major participating countries are open to the move. An FAA official familiar with the CORSIA process at ICAO commented: “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.”

Prior to the global crisis, IATA forecast CORSIA would mitigate around 2.5 billion t of CO2 between 2021 and 2035, an annual average of 164 million t. ICAO’s own previous analysis estimated the industry would need to offset around a total of 104 million t of CO2 in the 2021-2023 pilot phase, rising to 216 million t 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 forecasted demand in April 2020 to be as low as 2.6 bpd and in May 2.4 million bpd. 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 t, with a projection of 936 million t 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 t in total.

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, commented: “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.”