Airlines are demanding the rewriting of a global agreement designed to cut aviation carbon emissions in wake of coronavirus crisis

Should we be surprised? The International Air Transport Association (IATA), the global trade association for airlines, claimed a scheme to offset any rise in emissions would place an “inappropriate economic burden” on operators already struggling with the impact of the worldwide Covid-19 lockdown. But climate campaigners have said any bailouts should come with environmental strings attached. Chris Baynes discusses latest developments in an article on The Independent website.

 

Airlines threaten to abandon carbon offsetting commitment over coronavirus crisis

Airlines are demanding the rewriting of a global agreement designed to cut aviation carbon emissions, in order to scale back their targets in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA), the global trade association for airlines, claimed a scheme to offset any rise in emissions would place an “inappropriate economic burden” on operators already struggling with the impact of the worldwide Covid-19 lockdown.

IATA warned airlines could pull out of the United Nations-led carbon offsetting and reduction scheme for international aviation (Corsia) unless it was amended.

Under the terms of the agreement, drawn up by the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), aviation operators are required to pay to offset any annual growth in emissions above an agreed baseline as part of commitments to work towards carbon neutral flights. The baseline is set at the average emissions for the years 2019 and 2020.

IATA is arguing the collapse in global air traffic caused by the coronavirus crisis will mean a “significant reduction” in that baseline — leading to increased offsetting requirements and costs for airlines in years to come.

“There is no doubt that the Covid-19 crisis and its impact on Corsia’s offsetting requirements constitute circumstances that put the sustainable development of the sector at risk and will result in an inappropriate economic burden on international aviation,” the association said.

IATA argued emissions from 2019 alone should be used to determine the baseline, which it claimed would “preserve the environmental benefits that were forecast to be achieved”.

Climate campaigners accused airlines of attempting to use the coronavirus crisis to water down their environmental commitments.

Leo Murray, director of innovation at climate change charity Possible, said IATA’s proposal would mean Corsia “would have absolutely no effect whatsoever, probably for the entire first phases through to 2027”.

The US Environmental Defence Fund, in a statement earlier this month that pre-empted industry lobbying, urged the ICAO not to make “fundamental changes that would weaken” Corsia.

In a statement, it said: “Coronavirus/Covid-19 is a global crisis that has hit public health and the world’s airlines are facing real economic and structural threats. But UN climate action is not one of them.

“That’s because there will be plenty of high-quality credits available to help airlines meet their carbon limits in Corsia’s initial years — and because Corsia includes provisions, thanks to ICAO foresight, that give airlines flexibility to deal with the Covid-19 crisis without sacrificing climate protection.”

IATO, which has asked ICAO to respond to its proposal by the end of June, this week warned 25 million jobs across the world were potentially at risk from airline collapses unless governments stepped in to help.

The association, whose members include the likes of Lufthansa and British Airways parent IAG, said global air travel had slumped by 70 per cent this quarter, meaning airlines with grounded fleets and dwindling cash could not afford to issue refunds.

But climate campaigners have said any bailouts should come with environmental strings attached.

Leo Roberts, research manager at climate change think tank E3G, said “we must be constantly vigilant of big polluters using Covid to escape their responsibilities”.

This week, campaign group Stay Grounded published an open letter signed by 250 environmental groups and charities from across Europe calling on governments to attach climate and labour conditions to any airline bailouts.

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