Without ado, four initial thoughts on the carbon offset resolution passed by ICAO:
1. “Practical” and “consensus” were the two words that jumped out at me from ICAO Council president Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu’s statement on the historic resolution. Negotiators focused on what was “practical” in the real world to achieve global “consensus.” The world’s airlines, aircraft manufacturers and 191 countries—as disparate as the US, Russia, China, Iran, all of the European Union and Brazil—are now on record in agreement on both the principle of offsetting airline carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions growth and a mechanism for doing so. That consensus—buy in from all 191 of ICAO’s members—is a fairly remarkable achievement.
2. There will certainly be hand wringing about the voluntary nature of the Carbon Offset and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation’s (CORSIA) 2021-2026 period. Russia and Brazil, for example, have not agreed to participate during that timeframe and probably won’t. But they still joined in to allow the market-based measure (MBM) scheme to pass. If the scheme was mandatory from the start, the consensus among the 191 countries would have surely collapsed. Further, the voluntary nature allowed some key countries with airlines significantly contributing to international air traffic—China, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar—to participate from the start without being seen as pushed by developed countries or alienating developing countries that don’t participate from the start. The result: About 80% of airlines’ emissions growth from 2020 will be covered in the 2021-2026 period and even the countries not participating are on record supporting the concept of CORSIA.
3. In order for the scheme to have teeth and credibility, the programs in which airlines invest to gain carbon offset credits must be legitimate and genuinely reduce CO2 emissions. This will be critical to whether CORSIA is a historic success or an exercise in government grandstanding.
4. The MBM scheme is NOT the end all and be all for controlling airline CO2 emissions. Developing efficient satellite-based air navigation technologies and techniques and encouraging the widespread production of cleaner-burning alternative jet fuels must remain top priorities for global aviation.