CORSIA: Preparing for take off

Published 31st October 2019 by Lucy Haines

As the aviation sector readies itself for CORSIA, we take a look at current progress on deciding eligible offsets and how airlines can prepare themselves for a 2021 take off.

What is CORSIA?

By 2020, international aviation emissions are projected to be 70% higher than 2005 levels according to the EU, and could even reach a further 300-700% growth by 2050.

This is why in  2016, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) adopted the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) to address growing emissions in the aviation sector and to stabilise net emissions at 2020 levels.

The aviation sector is therefore on the verge of major changes. In order to stay under this cap and achieve carbon neutral growth from 2020 onwards, ICAO recommends a basket of measures to airline operators, including: establishing aircraft related technology standards, improving air traffic and operational management and developing and deploying sustainable aviation fuels.

Due to the challenges of implementing these measures in the short term, ICAO is implementing CORSIA. This is a global market-based scheme requiring that any emissions above 2020 levels be offset with high quality verified emissions reductions.

These reductions will contribute to “carbon neutral growth” while financing sustainable development projects that also deliver social and environmental co-benefits around the world.

Source: https://www.icao.int/environmental-protection/Documents/CorsiaBrochure_8Panels-ENG-Web.pdf

The journey ahead

Offsetting requirements will start phasing in from 2021 under the following timetable:

2019: All operators with annual emissions greater than 10,000 tonnes of CO2 are required to report their emissions on an annual basis, with monitoring starting from 1 January 2019 (international flights only).

2021 -23: The Pilot Phase which is voluntary. From 2021 until 2026, only flights between states that volunteer to participate in the pilot and/or first phase will be subject to offsetting requirements.  As of 16​ July​ 2019, 81 States, representing 76.63​% of international aviation activity, intend to voluntarily participate in CORSIA from its outset. 

2024-26: Phase 1 is also voluntary. To participate in the Pilot or Phase 1, carriers must notify ICAO in the year proceeding each phase.

2027 -35: Phase 2 will be mandatory with all international flights subject to offsetting requirements from this time. However, flights to and from Least Developed Countries (LDCs), Small Island developing States, Landlocked Developing countries, and states which represent less than 0.5% of international RTK (Revenue Tonne Kilometre) will be exempt but can participate voluntarily.

Other exemptions include:

  • Operators emitting less than 10k metric tonnes of CO2 emissions
  • Aircraft with less than 5,700kg of Maximum Take Off Mass (MTOM)
  • Emissions from humanitarian, medical and firefighting operations

Where are we today?

There are still some decisions to be made. While EcoAct has cautiously followed discussions and reviewed Emission Units Eligibility Criteria in order to be prepared in time to supply its partners with the right projects and offsets, we are currently waiting for the March 2020 announcement of which offset programmes are eligible to supply credits for the scheme.

Here are the 2019 developments:

March 2019 – ICAO approved the Emissions Units Eligibility Criteria which sets out the criteria that any CORSIA offsetting credits must meet. It also announced the members of its Technical Advisory Body (TAB) which comprises 19 experts, nominated by governments. Their job is to decide which carbon credits/emissions units will be allowed to be used in the CORSIA carbon offsetting scheme.

June 2019 – TAB invited offsetting programmes to apply for assessment to enable it to make its recommendations on CORSIA eligible emissions units.

July 2019 – ICAO received 14 applications for consideration.

March 2020: The ICAO TAB final decision on programmes eligible to supply emissions units is anticipated.

Preparing for take off

There are certain actions that airlines either must or could be doing to prepare themselves at least for the imminent commencement of CORSIA or even beyond into net zero pathway.

Emissions calculation, monitoring and verification: Also referred to in the context of the scheme as EMV, this aspect will be a significant part of the work and input required of the carrier and this requirement has already started.

Since January 2019, carriers have been required to record fuel use and calculate emissions. Operators must keep track of their fuel use for each individual flight and apply one of the five approved fuel use monitoring methods for calculation. Emissions, once calculated, must be verified by an independent third party.

Gaining support from sustainability experts in order to set up the processes for monitoring and to gain an accurate emissions calculation will take the headache out of the activity and smooth the verification and reporting processes.

Emissions reporting: In May 2020 carriers are required to submit a verified Emissions Report and associated Verification Report to ICAO. (Bear in mind this is now an annual requirement and from 2022, all reports for the proceeding years will be due by April.) Therefore, it is important that EMV measures are all in place.

Calculating offsetting needs:

The calculation of the offsets needed for each company is done through a dynamic approach that will consider two factors:

  • A sectoral approach: The sector’s growth factor is calculated based on the international aviation sector global average growth of emissions in a given year.
  • An individual growth factor: represents an individual operator growth factor of emissions in a year.

The sectoral approach will be following initially and then the individual approach will progressively take over from 2030. It is important that each company start to run sensitivity analysis towards several growth factors.

Purchasing offsets: As we wait for the final agreements to be made on eligibility, many airlines are already proactively looking at offsetting schemes which is helping them both to prepare for the up and coming demands, but also to answer the increasing public call for further proactivity on climate change and service the increasing desire for passengers to access a means to offset their emissions from flying, even on national routes.

Whether for CORSIA or otherwise, credible and independently verified carbon credits can be sourced via accredited carbon trading companies and project developers such as EcoAct. These companies that are familiar with the carbon market will be able to assist in the sourcing of credits and retiring them on the international carbon registry. Ultimately, this can take the pain out of CORSIA compliance and assist you in sourcing credible carbon credits for the scheme and beyond.

EcoAct is a founding member of International Carbon Reduction and Offset Alliance (ICROA), a member of the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA) and an award-winning offsetting project developer. As an international climate and sustainability consultancy we provide a wide range of expert services including those related to measuring and monitoring emissions, verification services, setting targets and sourcing credible carbon offsets from valuable social impact and sustainable development projects.

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