I have a confession to make - I have been flying too much. Before the year runs out, I will have been on 20 separate flights in 2018 alone! I know, I am sorry. So when the UNFCC emailed me saying I could pay for my sins by offsetting the carbon footprint of my travel to Katowice, I gladly donated to one of their projects. And when I got to the COP, they gave me a special white lanyard instead of the standard blue to commend me for my “good work”.
I got a white lanyard for paying to offset the carbon emitted during my travel to Katowice
It didn’t feel very good though, it felt too easy. To scratch my itch, I attended a discussion on CO2 mitigation in international aviation. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO, pronounced eye-cow) showcased their shiny new program for carbon offsetting, called CORSIA (Carbon Offsetting and.. never mind). The program trains member states to monitor, report, and verify (MRV) the carbon emissions and fuel consumption of every international airline operating under them.
Starting January 1, 2019, member states will be required to submit MRV data on all of their airlines and ensure that they offset the carbon emitted on routes between member states. Every year, the amount of emissions that airlines need to offset will be corrected in accordance with the growth in their air traffic. If an airline uses sustainable fuels, it will be deducted from their offset requirements.
Part of the panel presenting the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA)
Sounds great, what’s the catch? The price of a carbon offset. Paying for a ton of CO2 currently feels too easy. Would a higher carbon price discourage member states from complying with CORSIA? When I tracked her down after the talk, ICAO director Jane Hupe conceded that under CORSIA, they would simply be a buyer in the carbon market. The fair price of carbon was outside of her jurisdiction.
Now feeling like an investigative reporter, I attended the talk on the Potential of carbon pricing. Everybody agreed that a good carbon price was crucial for sustainable aviation. However Governments found it difficult to raise the carbon price because the costs would inevitably be borne by the man on the street - think higher fuel prices, think the recent protests in France. How do you get the average Joe (or Jacques) to buy into this? You make sure they see the benefits of the scheme - you don’t need an independent researcher to tell you that.
The French took to the streets to protest Macron's climate tax, the process for which was far from transparent
An independent research was then presented showing that the best way to achieve a good carbon price is to ensure that the revenue from the offsetting process visibly trickles down. Transparency is key. Protestors took to the streets in France not because they hated the content of their carbon tax, it was because they hated how it was done. The study also showed that additional emissions reductions could be achieved if the revenue from carbon offsets is recycled for additional climate change mitigation efforts; instead most countries currently use this revenue for general budget spending.
Boarding yet another flight; my footprint this year would put an elephant to shame
If you are still with me, well done! If you aren't, let me re-trace my steps:
Transparent policies and visible benefits will allow for a fair carbon price. A fair carbon price will mean CORSIA-compliant airlines will move towards becoming truly energy neutral. And sustainable aviation is crucial if we are to come close to a 1.5 degree Celsius scenario.
PS: Ironically, I started this article in Katowice, fleshed it out on the plane, and finished it at Schiphol!