In light of the pandemic, the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has agreed to use the 2019 emissions value for 2020 for the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) “to avoid inappropriate economic burden on the aviation industry.”

The CORSIA was designed in 2016 to address gaps in international aviation’s ability to reduce and eliminate its CO2 emissions through ongoing innovations in aircraft design, propulsion, operational procedures, fuels and other more sustainable means to achieve the sector’s goal of carbon neutral growth from 2020. Originally, the CORSIA baseline calculation was agreed to be an average of 2019 and 2020 emissions.

The impact of the coronavirus, which has significantly lowered international aviation operations, traffic and emissions in 2020, would skew the CORSIA baseline. This, in turn, would create the need for airlines to offset more emissions although they are flying less and generating less emissions. By excluding the virus events of 2020, airlines will stabilize their emissions at levels anticipated when CORSIA was agreed by ICAO’s 193 member states.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) welcomed the decision, as did the International Business Aviation Council (IBAC) and other industry groups.

However, an assembly of non-governmental organizations, led by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), cautioned against changing the baseline. Annie Petsonk, International Counsel, EDF, warned that the decision sets a “bad precedent for the development of carbon markets in other countries and sectors”. If 2019 CO2 emissions are used as the baseline, airlines need to only offset emissions above 2019 levels for the first three years of the program and can be excused from offset obligations if their emissions do not rise above those levels.

The need and means to facilitate the green and resilient recovery for sustainable aviation from a longer-term perspective is aligned with the ambition of the Paris Agreement and also with the recent ICAO CART recommendations on sustainability.