The timeline for the implementation of ICAO’s global carbon offsetting scheme for commercial aviation is one of the myriad issues affected by the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus outbreak.

The implementation of the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) 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.

The use of two years’ data was meant to ensure unexpected disruption did not skew the figures.

“2020 is supposed to be, alongside 2019, the baseline for the CORSIA programme,” says the executive director of the cross-industry Air Transport Action Group, Michael Gill. “An average of the two years was agreed in order to smooth any potential downturn in traffic in either year, but a situation as grave as the one we are currently facing was never contemplated.

“It is much too early to say what the impact of Covid-19 will be on the CORSIA baseline and we will continue to look at how the situation evolves over time,” Gill continues. “However, any modelling done today will be out of date in a week. It is very clear that 2020 is a completely abnormal situation but, in the meantime, we have an industry to rebuild and a world to reconnect.”

Gill’s comments came after ICAO on 13 March agreed a set of eligible emissions units for the pilot phase of CORSIA. They are: the American Carbon Registry; the China GHG Voluntary Emission Reduction Program; the Clean Development Mechanism; Climate Action Reserve; The Gold Standard; and the Verified Carbon Standard.

“[The choice of eligible emissions units] is the result of a robust assessment of emissions units programmes against a set of criteria agreed by ICAO Member States,” said ICAO Council president Salvatore Sciacchitano on 13 March. “It will ensure that CORSIA is both practical and robust, and represents an important environmental milestone.”

Announced on 6 October 2016, ICAO’s CORSIA initiative created a target for the airline industry to achieve carbon-neutral growth in international flights from 2020 onwards. It 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.