The Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) was developed by the member countries of the United Nation’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and adopted in 2016 to help curb global aviation’s impact on climate change. CORSIA was created as an international effort to reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs) from the international aviation sector. CORSIA pertains only to GHGs from international flights, as these particular emissions are not included in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Domestic aviation emissions, which account for roughly one third of all global aviation emissions, are covered in the UNFCCC.
Overall, airplanes are responsible for about 2% of global carbon dioxide emissions and release other gases and water vapor that, at high altitudes, heat the planet even more than carbon dioxide. The total global emissions of 2% can be broken down to approximately 0.7% for domestic flights and 1.3% for international flights.
Unlike other polluting activities, such as from energy production, automobiles, and agriculture, there are not many technologies for “clean flying”. Instead, the ICAO is relying on the market-based CORSIA scheme, along with low-carbon fuels and innovations in plane design and air traffic management, to keep net aviation-related emissions carbon-neutral as the global aviation sector grows.
Airlines and other aircraft operators that are subject to offsetting requirements includes all aircraft operators, including large passenger airlines, cargo airlines, and business aviation. In most cases, owners of private aircraft are exempt to these offsetting requirements.
CORSIA is structured to cap aviation GHGs starting in 2021 through 2035 at the same levels emitted in 2019, or the “baseline”. Aircraft operators with international flight emissions greater than 10,000 metric tons of CO2e annually (calculated formulaically, using fuel consumption) report their emissions to their national authority. Governments then work with ICAO to inform operators of the number of offset credits they need.
|Voluntary (2021-2026)||329 million metric tons CO2e|
|Mandatory (2027-2035)||475 million metric tons CO2e|
(Source: Deutche Welle)
When GHG emissions exceed the 2019 baseline, airlines can purchase eligible emission units (EEUs) from a program that meets compliance under their CORSIA obligations. As of November 2021, the ICAO Council has approved eight carbon offset programs to offer EEUs that meet the CORSIA criteria:
(1) American Carbon Registry (ACR)
(2) Architecture for REDD+ Transactions (ART)
(3) China GHG Voluntary Emission Reduction (VER) Program
(4) Clean Development Mechanism (CDM)
(5) Climate Action Reserve (CAR)
(6) Global Carbon Council (GCC)
(7) The Gold Standard
(8) Verra’s Verified Carbon Standard (VCS)
Two of the more transparent and publicly traded carbon credit vehicles, the CME’s GEO and N-GEO futures contracts, both meet the ICAO’s criteria for eligibility and can be used by airlines to comply to CORSIA requirements. Currently, the CME’s new C-GEO futures contract does not qualify for CORSIA purposes.
CORSIA also allows airlines to meet its offsetting requirements using CORSIA eligible fuels, such as CORSIA sustainable aviation fuels and lower carbon aviation fuels. CORSIA sustainable aviation fuels are renewable or waste-derived aviation fuels, whereas lower carbon aviation fuels are fossil-based aviation fuels. Both types of fuels must meet their respective CORSIA Sustainability Criteria.
CORSIA is structured with three phases: two initial, voluntary phases (2021-2023 and 2024-2026) and a mandatory phase that commences in 2027 and goes through 2035.
It is estimated 2.5 billion carbon offsets will be needed between 2021 to 2035 for the airlines to comply with CORSIA.
Countries that represent most of the global aviation activity (107 countries, 88% of international flights) have volunteered. However, some of the countries that have not opted into the voluntary phase include China, Russia, India, and Brazil. All will join the mandatory phase of the program in 2027. Countries that do not have domestic aviation operations with international flights but nevertheless have international flights in and out of their nation are also encouraged to join as this will add those routes operated by foreign operators, thus increasing the overall emissions coverage of CORSIA.
During the initial phases, CORSIA only applies to international flights between countries that have volunteered to take part. International flights to and from countries (one or both) that have not volunteered will be exempt during this period. During the mandatory stage, CORSIA will cover all international flights, with a few exceptions (the only exemptions after 2027 will be those to and from countries with low aviation activity or classified as "Least Developed", "Small Island Developing", or "Landlocked Developing"). Every three years, starting in 2025, aviation operators will have to acquire and retire the number of EEUs that match their offsetting obligation for the relevant compliance period.
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