The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has announced that U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement is not a good sign for reducing aviation emissions.
The decision for the United States to leave the Paris Agreement will no doubt be a significant blow to the global effort to combat climate change. But what does this mean for aviation? The Paris Agreement did not consider international aviation emissions at all. It left a large gap, and was soon filled by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO)’s Carbon Offset and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA). The two schemes are completely separate, as the aviation sector had decided to address its environmental concerns independently. For a video describing an overview of CORSIA, click here.
This, unfortunately, does not avoid the problems with the U.S. withdrawal. ICAO found that CORSIA “complements” Paris, and are “inexorably linked”. Paris was all about nation-states agreeing to minimise their domestic carbon dioxide emissions, whilst CORSIA deals with cross-border air travel. Countries, by reducing their domestic flight CO2 emissions, could work towards reaching their targets under the Paris Agreement.
In the event this is not a precursor to departing from CORSIA, there is much the U.S. can do to undermine the agreement. Refusing to participate in the voluntary period would render CORSIA futile since America’s aircraft emissions accounted for 29 percent of all aircraft emissions in 2016. In its 2012 Aviation Environmental and Energy Policy Statement, the Federal Aviation Administration had planned to reach carbon-neutral growth for U.S. commercial aviation by 2020. It is unlikely this will occur now.
The irony of it is that the U.S. was a forceful negotiator on behalf of CORSIA in October 2016. By Trump declaring “I don’t want anything to get in our way” when withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, one may be able to infer CORSIA will be next.
IATA has not received any direct assurance from the U.S. Government that they are still committed to CORSIA, but in the absence of that, U.S. airlines have provided some.
Nevertheless, it may not matter and a U.S. withdrawal from CORSIA may actually not make much difference. Some argue that CORSIA will do little to reduce aviation emissions anyway, even if the U.S. remained on board. This is due primarily to its voluntary nature and its coverage of less than 40 per cent of international passenger capacity. David Hodgkinson and Rebecca Johnston writing in The Australian note that from 2021-2023, less than a third of all states are going to join and only flights between two participating states are covered. They, as an alternative, like the idea of a carbon tax for aviation but concede, “The chances of implementation of a direct tax? About as much as the CORSIA offering an effective solution to the aviation emissions problem.”
Whilst aviation only accounts for two per cent of the world’s global emissions, it is rapidly growing. From 1990 to 2010, global aircraft carbon dioxide emissions grew by about 40 percent. In July 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency determined that aircraft emissions contributed to climate change significantly and endangered public health.
International co-operation is critical to address the environmental impacts caused by our inherently international industry. CORSIA may have its flaws but it is a critical starting point. Trump’s withdrawal from the agreement would significantly damage the global effort to reduce carbon emissions.