IATA has added to calls for ICAO to reconsider the baseline period being used for its CORSIA global carbon offsetting scheme for commercial aviation, in light of the coronavirus outbreak.

In a paper titled Impact of COVID-19 on CORSIA baseline calculation, dated 30 March 2020, the airline industry association suggests the coronavirus outbreak’s huge effect on traffic will skew the average emissions figures that will determine the scheme’s baseline.

“Traffic has collapsed, even between countries without major outbreaks of Covid-19,” IATA notes. “As the current CORSIA provisions call for 2020 emissions to be used in determining the baseline for CORSIA, this reduction in traffic will significantly lower the baseline compared to what was projected as a basis for adopting CORSIA, resulting in significantly higher offsetting requirements and costs for operators further down the line.”

IATA calls for a decision on the issue to be made “no later than 30 June”, which is the date by which states must confirm their participation in – or their withdrawal from – the first, voluntary phase of the scheme, according to an ICAO resolution adopted in October 2019.

Instead of using an average of two years’ emissions data to determine the CORSIA baseline, IATA suggests only 2019’s figures should be considered.

“Allowing the use of 2019 emissions as an alternative would preserve the environmental benefits that were forecast to be achieved through CORSIA as the adjusted baseline would remain more stringent than what the baseline would have been without the Covid-19 crisis,” IATA states.

Otherwise, the association believes “many states may be less inclined to volunteer for the pilot and first phase and, indeed, current volunteers may reconsider their earlier decisions in order to safeguard the interest of their national air transport system and its connectivity”.

IATA adds that “an adjustment to the baseline is also necessary to limit the economic impact of the Covid-19 crisis on aeroplane operators”, who would otherwise face paying for carbon offsets covering a much greater proportion of their emissions than envisaged when the implementation of the scheme was agreed in 2016.

Of the use of 2020 data in the baseline calculation, ICAO says today that its “36-state Governing Council has included an agenda item on this subject for its upcoming 220th session, ensuring discussions will take place on possible solutions to assure that the overall integrity and objectives of the CORSIA programme aren’t diminished due to COVID-19 traffic impacts”.

Earlier in March, the Air Transport Action Group – an independent coalition of which IATA is a member alongside organisations including Airbus, Boeing and Airports Council International – made a similar call for the baseline period to be reconsidered, citing the “abnormal situation” faced by the industry this year.

How is CORSIA being implemented?

The implementation of the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) – based on a 2016 ICAO resolution that envisages the airline industry achieving carbon-neutral growth in international flights from 2021 onwards – currently involves using airline CO2 emissions data from 2020, in combination with that from 2019, to create a baseline average on which future offsetting would be based.

In any year from 2021 when international commercial aviation CO2 emissions covered by the scheme exceed the average baseline emissions of 2019 and 2020, this difference represents the sector’s offsetting requirements for that year.

CORSIA is due to be implemented in three phases, beginning with the pilot phase (2021-2023), then the first phase (2024-2026). Participation in those first two stages is voluntary. In the third phase (2027-2035), participation is obligatory for states with a significant share of global traffic.

The scheme does not cover domestic flights.