Initiative hoped to benefit airlines and conservation alike
The global civil aviation industry has paved the way for airlines to help neutralize their climate footprint by protecting nature. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has approved two forest-carbon programs from which airlines can purchase carbon credits. Under a UN framework known as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+), the “nature-based” credits fund protection for forests that absorb and store carbon from the atmosphere.
“The science is clear — the world cannot meet its climate goals without significantly scaling up the protection of nature,” said Maggie Comstock, senior director of climate policy at Conservation International and a technical advice contributor of to the ICAO. “Carbon credits generated through the conservation and restoration of forests can provide high-quality emissions for airlines while protecting wildlife, keeping ecosystems intact and contributing to local livelihoods. This is a win for the industry and a win for nature.”
Despite significant efficiency improvements, aviation remains one of the world’s top carbon-emitting sectors. Under the ICAO, countries agreed to cap global aviation emissions at 2020 levels, necessitating airlines to utilize more efficient aircraft, improved operational practices and alternative jet fuels.
Despite this, a large emissions gap will remain before the fast-growing sector, which moved 4 billion passengers annually before COVID-19, can reach desired carbon-neutral goals. To compensate, ICAO has created a carbon market, formally known as the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), wherein airlines can buy carbon credits from approved programs. This allows the inclusion of forest-based carbon credits from specific REDD+ programs, particularly in developing countries.
Commencing in January 2021, airlines flying between countries participating in CORSIA’s are required to reduce emissions from international flights that exceed 2019 emission levels. With 2020 emissions far below those in 2019, demand for offsets will be low in the short term but likely increase as the airline industry recovers.
“ICAO’s decision sends an important signal to countries that halting deforestation and restoring degraded ecosystems is an urgent, global priority and that the international aviation industry will be a leader in investing in nature-based solutions to climate change through the purchase of high-quality carbon offsets,” said James Roth, senior vice president of global policy and government affairs at Conservation International.
“Nature offers at least 30 percent of the solution to climate change but currently receives less than 3 percent of climate-related funding,” Roth added. “That needs to change if we are going to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, and this announcement helps put us on that path.”