Following years of debate among the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) regarding carbon offsetting and reduction, CO2 levels in aviation are now tackled harder than ever.

From 2020 onwards airline emissions are offset by the introduction of anti-CO2 initiatives, like tree planting, to heavily combat any pollution caused by aircraft. Such initiatives are a part of the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA).

In 2020, the CORSIA scheme has been introduced ensuring that all CO2 is offset. Despite CORSIA technically being voluntary, it is expected that all of the major airlines will adhere strictly to the new rules before they become mandatory from 2027 onwards.

What Exactly is CO2?

Carbon dioxide, or CO2, is an odorless and colorless gas which is emitted through the combustion of fossil fuels. Being a greenhouse gas, it harms the environment yet in many ways is unavoidable in our everyday lives. Unfortunately, the use of most major modes of transport involves some amount of CO2 emissions.

The phrase ‘carbon footprint’ means the amount of carbon dioxide released by a certain person, household, company, or activity. This term is now recognized at numerous organizations all around the world, both in the international aviation industry and beyond. As the awareness of climate change has increased, campaigners have been stepping up the pressure on airlines to take action. Today, the connection between carbon dioxide and global warming is quite clear. Therefore, companies like Terra Pass have joined the fight to find viable ways to lower or offset carbon emissions.

Why CORSIA is Necessary

It has taken close to two decades for these new parameters to come into effect and for many, this move was seen as not just a preference but a necessity. With emissions gradually growing across the world and massive increases in the budget airline sector, concern has been evident for some time. Some experts had predicted that the aviation industry would have consumed a quarter of the world’s overall carbon budget by 2050.

Aircraft Emissions

Despite business aviation accounting for less than 1% of all international aviation emissions, the entire industry has accepted and shared responsibility for the threat that CO2 poses to our climate. As a result, aviation sectors have received many plaudits for taking the initiative and tackling the problem head-on. Tim Alderslade of the British Air Transport Association shares these sentiments.

“It should not be forgotten that we are the only industry that has voluntarily agreed to such a commitment,” said Alderslade. “As a sector, we have really decoupled growth in aviation from growth in emissions.”

When CORSIA was officially adopted in October 2016, Aviation Minister Lord Ahmad was similarly impressed, stating that he felt the move was a positive step in the right direction.

“This is an unprecedented deal, the first of its kind for any sector,” said Britain’s Aviation Minister. “International aviation is responsible for putting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year than the whole of the UK, and yet until now, there has been no global consensus on how to address aviation emissions. For years, the UK has pushed to tackle emissions globally. Now, 191 countries have sent a clear message that aviation will play its part in combating climate change.”
Aviation industry agrees deal to cut CO2 emissions

Airport Expansion

For the UK in particular, this came at a time when a reduction scheme in CO2 emissions was desperately needed. Two campaigns in England debated the merits of expanding airports and soon a new runway was added to Heathrow airport, leading to more aircraft going in and out of the capital and therefore producing a larger amount of CO2 emissions. This, according to the Aviation Environment Federation’s Tim Johnson, obliged the UK to imperatively comply with CORSIA:

“The UK’s ambition for aviation emissions must match the ambition of the UK’s Climate Change Act, and not simply the ICAO ‘global lowest common denominator’ of ‘carbon-neutral growth from 2020.’”

Some might assume that the airlines were dragged towards or forced to follow the CORSIA scheme but the truth is that companies willingly joined the program. Boeing and Airbus, two of the largest airlines in the world today, immediately started speaking in glowing terms of the agreement and fully supported it from the very beginning.

Greener Future for Aviation

Aircraft Emissions

CORSIA came as a huge step for the future of our planet’s climate following earlier talks in Paris between representatives of more than 20 countries, ratified by superpowers including the US and China. In an agreement that US President Obama called “historic”, steps were taken to set in place tangible goals to reduce CO2 emissions. The meeting was notable because there were very few objectors to the move. The world clearly started acknowledging that emissions from international flights are a real problem which needs to be tackled sooner rather than later.

Starting with the efforts towards building a greener world, the aviation industry began to garner positive press for joining this noble battle against global warming. In January 2018, over 70 countries joined CORSIA - countries which make up for over 85% of international aviation activity.

One of the ideas to reduce the emissions from international aviation was the use of alternative fuels or stricter control of fossil fuels used to power aircraft across the globe. Having announced this on 15 February 2019, ICAO decided that certain kinds of fossil fuels produced using newer technologies and equipment were acceptable too. Later that month, the European Council pushed for CORSIA implementation at its next assembly. It is predicted that the negotiations will last until 2022.

Also, starting from 2019, all international flights even in the countries which are not a part of CORSIA are monitored in terms of their harmful emissions.

In the years to come it will be intriguing to see how things play out once the scheme becomes compulsory. If companies struggle to meet the CO2 targets this could lead to a reduction in the number of active aircraft, which in turn would make private aircraft increasingly valuable as the availability and frequency of flights are reduced. The small size of private jets could also prove to be an appealing factor if larger aircraft are introduced to cope with increased passenger demand.