ICAO Council Yields to Aviation Industry Request, Modifies Rules for Initial Phase of Climate Program

In a significant move, the 36-member Council of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) has unilaterally revised the regulations for the first three years of its flagship climate initiative, the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA).

The Council has chosen to adjust the baseline for the initial phase of the program (2021-2023) from the average of 2019 and 2020 emissions to solely 2019 levels. Consequently, airlines will only be obligated to offset carbon emissions that exceed the 2019 baseline during this period, provided emissions surpass that level.

This decision marks a deviation from ICAO’s previous commitment to achieving carbon neutral growth starting from 2020. Instead, airlines are now relieved of offset obligations unless emissions surpass the 2019 levels during the first three years of the program.

With offset obligations potentially suspended during the pilot phase, this development paves the way for governments at various levels—local, state, and national—to enforce climate action measures as part of economic recovery plans. The European Union (EU) is expected to take a leading role, with several member states linking state aid to emissions reductions within the aviation sector. However, this decision also exposes the aviation industry to the risk of a complex and fragmented framework of environmental legislation related to climate change.