EU backs COVID-19 changes to airline CO2 scheme, dismaying green groups

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union on Tuesday backed proposals to change a planned U.N. scheme to tackle aviation’s carbon footprint, a move campaigners said could allow airlines to pollute freely for years.

FILE PHOTO: Two airliners pass in the sky above Malta as the drama of a hijacked Libyan Afriqiyah Airways Airbus A320 is played out on the runway beneath at Malta Airport, December 23, 2016. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit-Lupi

With planes grounded around the world, airlines shedding jobs and aviation emissions plummeting amid the coronavirus pandemic, carriers want changes to the U.N. aviation agency’s CORSIA deal to cap emissions from international flights.

Starting in 2021, CORSIA would see airlines buy carbon offset credits to cover any emissions from international flights above a baseline of average emissions in 2019 and 2020.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) wants this baseline changed to 2019, because aviation emissions in 2020 are lower than expected due to the pandemic.

The EU’s 27 member states decided on Tuesday to support these changes.

“Adapting the baseline is crucial to maintaining a similar level of ambition for the scheme,” said Croatian transport minister Oleg Butkovic, who led the EU talks.

The rule change reflects the “extremely difficult circumstances” for international aviation amid the pandemic, he said.

The United States also supports changing CORSIA’s baseline to 2019, three sources told Reuters.

The U.N. aviation agency’s governing council, which meets from June 8-26, is weighing whether and how to change CORSIA.

If the CORSIA rules are left untouched, airlines fear a recovery in traffic will lead to higher-than-expected offset costs. IATA says switching to a 2019 baseline could save airlines $15 billion.

NGOs and academics said the change would slash airlines’ offsetting obligations. An analysis by think tank Oeko-Institut said the CORSIA rule change would “delay climate action by the industry for several years”.

    A group of EU lawmakers wrote to EU leaders last month, saying changes to CORSIA should wait until a planned review of the scheme in 2022, once the pandemic’s full impact on the aviation sector is clearer.

Green groups are sceptical of CORSIA, which they say would allow airlines to keep emitting planet-warming carbon dioxide for years, while buying inexpensive carbon offset credits.

Reporting by Kate Abnett, Marine Strauss; Additional reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal; Editing by Edmund Blair and Ed Osmond

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