The ICAO Council has decided to disregard data from 2020 when calculating the baseline emissions for the CORSIA global carbon offsetting scheme for commercial aviation, in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

Instead, the UN body agreed on 30 June, the baseline will be calculated using only 2019 emissions data.

“Council states today have made a measured assessment and have come to the most reasonable solution available given our current and very extraordinary circumstances,” states ICAO Council president Salvatore Sciacchitano.


Source: ICAO

The coronavirus outbreak has significantly reduced international aviation operations, ICAO says, meaning the 2020 data would skew the two-year average and create “an inappropriate economic burden to aeroplane operators, due to the need to offset more emissions although they are flying less and generating less emissions”.

As part of CORSIA’s phased introduction, a first tranche of airlines is due to begin offsetting growth in CO2 emissions from international operations in 2021. That carbon-neutral growth was originally intended to be based on an average of emissions data from operations in 2019 and 2020, but the calculation will now be based solely on data from the former year.

Absent such an amendment, the baseline would have been much lower than expected – a development that would “disrespect the originally-agreed intention and objectives of ICAO’s 193 Member States when they adopted CORSIA in October 2016”, says ICAO.

The organisation notes that an earlier resolution included “modalities to adjust CORSIA both in case of an unforeseen circumstance that affects the sustainability of the scheme or an inappropriate economic burden such as that caused by Covid-19”.

Other elements of CORSIA have also been amended to consider only 2019 data, including the “emission threshold for CORSIA new entrants, and the selection of an operators’ emission basis for offset calculation during the pilot phase”.

ICAO adds that “there could be implications to the subsequent phases of CORSIA in light of how the sector’s recovery would take place, and more data and analysis of the situation and impacts on CORSIA will be needed”.

Bodies such as airline industry association IATA and the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG) – an independent coalition of which IATA is a member alongside organisations including Airbus, Boeing and Airports Council International – had called for 2020 data to be excluded from the baseline in recent months.

Several environmental lobby groups have already criticised ICAO’s decision to revise CORSIA’s baseline emissions level, however, saying it calls into question the airline industry’s commitment to reducing its impact on the environment.