Blog 20.10.16

Mitigating aviation industry emissions: are offsets enough?


There’s no denying that the aviation industry is a significant contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions. Now, they’re stepping up to curb their emissions through an international carbon offset agreement.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a UN specialized agency which works with 191 member states and industry groups on international civil aviation policies, announced the first ever agreement to curb the industry’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) will offset pollution from international travel and creates a framework for carbon offsetting. The system will be voluntary from 2021 to 2026 and mandatory beginning in 2027 for countries with larger airline industries.

The aviation industry currently accounts for 2 percent[i] of global greenhouse emissions, a figure expected to jump to 20 percent by 2050 as passenger numbers double every 15 years.[ii] Airline costs will also be increasing. The CORSIA deal is estimated to increase costs between $1.5B and $6.2B in 2025, depending on the future of carbon prices.[iii]

The International Air Transportation Association (IATA) supports CORSIA, and Secretary of State John Kerry said it “demonstrates the international community’s strong and growing support for climate action in all areas and helps avoid a patchwork of potentially costly and overlapping regional and national measures.”

While Kerry’s statement may be true, there are – of course – a few limitations to CORSIA.

  • Misses the carbon neutral goal: Even with guaranteed participation of all countries with major international airlines, an analysis by the International Council on Clean Transportation shows the current agreement will only be able to offset three-fourths of the growth in international aviation emissions expected by 2020. Therefore, the original aviation industry goal of carbon-neutral will not be met.


  • Someone’s got to pay: CORSIA will at minimum cost the industry $1.5B in 2025 – who will incur that? Given the already small profit margin of airline companies we have a feeling it’s going to be the consumer. The good news, Bloomberg projects the cost of tickets to increase by $13 max.
Source: Bloomberg
  • Only offsets?: Last but not least, this deal leaves out all other environmental mitigation techniques, such as biofuels, forcing airlines to adopt offsets even though they may already be investing in other techniques.

When it’s all said and done, CORSIA is a step in the right direction. Although alone it does not fully mitigate the industry’s growing greenhouse gas emissions, it shows that aviation is willing to unite internationally to take action on climate change. Moving forward, we hope to see airline companies using additional mitigation strategies so the aviation industry can achieve carbon neutrality.




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