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Coronavirus deflated aviation emissions

Updated: Nov 25, 2020

Policy Pulse - George Anjaparidze - 25 March 2020

As of March 24th COVID-19 has killed over 16 thousand people and brought the global economy to a crawl. Aviation has been one of the worst hit sectors. IATA`s latest forecast, published on March 24, expects airlines to see a 38% fall in passenger demand in 2020 compared to 2019. As a result, aviation CO2 emissions will experience the largest annual decrease in recent history.

2020 is a special year in the context of the climate agreement on international aviation - the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA). The scheme is designed to use the average of 2019 and 2020 CO2 emissions to determine the level (baseline) above which the airline industry needs to offset emissions. A lower baseline implies a larger offset responsibility in the future.

Industry advocacy efforts have been exceptionally successful in securing positive outcomes in dealing with the COVID-19 crisis. Airlines have secured suspension of airport slot rules, special treatment for air cargo operations and direct financial support from governments. Therefore, if deemed an industry priority, airlines would likely also succeed in introducing adjustments to the baseline under the CORSIA scheme. However, there is more at stake for airlines than minimizing their offsetting liability. There is an urgent need to strengthen the sustainability credentials of the sector.

Before the outbreak of coronavirus, surveys suggested that 2020 would usher in a paradigm shift in consumer sentiment. Across all geographic regions majority of survey participants expressed their intention to fly less for holidays to fight climate change.

In recognition of these threats, some airlines took action. Perhaps most notably on 14 February 2020, Delta Air Lines announced a commitment to go completely carbon neutral starting from March 2020. This kind of bold leadership should be admired. However, an airline by airline approach will not change consumer perceptions on flying nor will it deliver the level of action needed to address the climate challenge.

Sustaining growth after the coronavirus requires an immediate scale up in industry-wide action to strengthen sustainability credentials.


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