How airlines can reduce their carbon emissions

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With the aviation sector being one of the fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions, our Head of Sustainability EMEA, Anette Gussiås, discusses how measures, such as CORSIA, are being put in place to ensure flight operators play their part in reducing the industry’s emissions.  

Over the last century, air travel has grown significantly with thousands of planes gracing the skies every day, taking passengers to destinations all over the world.

The increase in planes in our skies, powered predominantly by fossil fuels, however, is having a detrimental effect on the environment, making the aviation sector the fastest-growing source of greenhouse gas emissions. It produces around 2% of all human-induced carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the world.  

It is predicted that global international aviation emissions will be around 70% higher in 2020 than in 2005 and according to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) that could grow by a further 300-700% by 2050.

Our team of experts at Kinect Energy has experience working for a number of international aviation businesses, providing carbon compliance and offset services. We work with flight operators to help develop carbon hedging strategies, optimize the participation in carbon schemes, such as EU ETS and CORSIA, provide market access, advise on carbon offsets and help establish and monitor carbon footprint reports.

Securing the future of air travel

Reducing emissions in the aviation sector has become a top priority for the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), wanting to set standards across the globe.

To drive this change, a new scheme was introduced in 2016, the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), to address CO2 emissions from international aviation. This is the first time that a single industry sector has agreed to a global market-based measure in the climate change field.

This is nothing new in Europe. European airlines have been part of the EU compliance mechanism, the emissions trading scheme (EU ETS) since 2012, so will be experienced when entering CORSIA. When CORSIA is fully up and running, however, European airlines will be exempt from complying with EU ETS.

What is CORSIA?

CORSIA is a mandatory monitoring, reporting and verification process (MRV) and is just one element of a number of measures designed to achieve ICAO’s global aspirations to achieve carbon neutral growth from 2020 onwards. Other measures include flight operational improvements, aircraft technologies and sustainable alternative fuels.

Does CORSIA apply to all airlines?

Private and commercial airlines that are part of the ICAO’s 193 member states, with annual emissions greater than 10,000 tonnes of CO2, are obliged to annually report on their emissions from 1 January 2019.

The following graphic from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), highlights which countries have and haven’t volunteered to participate in CORSIA. Those in green have and those in yellow are expected to be exempt from 2027. These will be subject to annual change as UN states opt in and out of the scheme over the coming years.


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Credit: International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)

Those that comply should have already started monitoring and reporting on emissions while participation in offsetting requirements is voluntary until 2024. Naturally, there is a benefit in gaining experience on this sooner rather than later as flight operators will get a better insight into their emissions and can be working on emission reduction efforts, if they aren’t already doing so.

There are a few exceptions that don’t need to comply with CORSIA, and these include:

-          Flights where one UN state didn’t opt into the scheme

-          Flights where both UN states didn’t opt into the scheme.

Others unaffected by CORSIA, include:

-          Humanitarian, medical and firefighting operations

-          Aircraft with a maximum take-off mass less than 5,700kgs

-          Operators emitting less than 10,000 metric tonnes of CO2 emissions per year.  

What are the key things to be aware of?

It’s important to note that the current phase is just a pilot that will run from 2021 through to 2023, with reporting starting from 2019. It will then be rolled out fully from 2024 to 2026. This first phase will apply to all the UN states that have agreed to take part in the scheme. States and routes covered by CORSIA will be defined in 2021.

MRV reporting for 2019/2020 will produce an average level of CO2 emissions and will set a baseline for carbon neutral growth to compare against in subsequent years. If emissions exceed this baseline the difference will determine the offsetting requirement.

Offsetting requirements are based on the increased emissions beyond the average baseline emissions of 2019 and 2020 and will come into effect from 2021. After each 3-year period, operators will need to demonstrate they have met their offsetting requirements, which involves cancelling the appropriate number of emissions units.

Once the offsetting requirements are set, only those that participated in the pilot or the first phase of the legislation will have to comply with offsetting requirements, however all international flights will have to comply from 2023.

The following are exempt from complying with offsetting requirements, unless they contribute on a voluntary basis:

-          Flights to and from Least Developed Countries (LDCs)

-          Flights to and from Small Island Developing States (SIDS)

-          Flights to and from Landlocked Developing Countries (LLDCs)

-          States which represent less than 0.5% of international RTK will be exempt from offsetting requirements.

What will airlines be required to do?

In order to comply with MRV regulations, airline operators will need to submit a monitoring plan along with fuel methodologies and an annual emission report that can be verified by an independent certified verifier.

As the scheme is still under development cost of participation is not yet defined, however, airlines will have to monitor, report and verify their annual emissions plus, depending on their emissions, purchase carbon offsets to finance emission reduction projects. This will not replace other emission reduction efforts that the aviation sector is doing but rather be in addition.

As far as the future of the aviation sector is concerned, as consumers grow increasingly aware of the climate impact from the traditional aviation sector, the industry may see less people flying in the short term. However, technological developments, R&D into sustainable renewable fuels and electrification of airplanes and battery storage technology using renewable energy sources, could create a pathway to secure the future of our skies.

For advice on how Kinect Energy can support your business to develop carbon hedging strategies, comply with schemes such as CORSIA or receive regulatory updates and analysis, get in touch with our sustainability team today on info@kinectenergy.com.