U.S. backs changes to aviation emissions scheme: sources

MONTREAL (Reuters) - The United States supports changing a landmark aviation emissions scheme now under review by a UN agency, after airlines said the current deal could leave them with higher carbon offsetting costs when air travel recovers from coronavirus, sources familiar with the matter said.

FILE PHOTO: An airplane is silhouetted against a full moon in the sky over London January 1, 2010. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett/File Photo

The International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) governing council, which meets from Monday through June 26, is weighing whether and how to change the global CORSIA deal, which starts in 2021.

Airlines, hit with a European-led backlash over pollution from flights, have pledged to spend billions of dollars under the deal to cap their emissions at 2020 levels through the purchase of carbon offsets.

But since emissions from international flights this year are set to drop significantly due to the pandemic, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has asked ICAO to change CORSIA’s baseline, now the average of emissions reported by airlines in 2019 and 2020, according to the deal.

IATA wants a baseline of 2019 alone, a change it says could save airlines $15 billion.

The United States told a virtual ICAO meeting on Friday it supports changing CORSIA’s baseline, three sources said.

The Latin American Civil Aviation Commission, which represents countries in the region, said in a letter to ICAO’s council president seen by Reuters that it supports changing the baseline.

All of the sources spoke on condition of anonymity as the discussions are private.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said in a statement the United States is “considering whether adjustments to CORSIA are necessary to avoid an unanticipated and disproportionate economic impact.”

The European Union is also weighing the proposed changes. The EU Commission, the bloc’s executive, has recommended changing the baseline to 2019, but the decision needs formal approval of EU members states which are still discussing the issue, with a decision expected on Tuesday.

Some EU lawmakers, NGOs and academics, however, have warned the change would slash airlines’ offsetting obligations under the deal.

Reporting By Allison Lampert in Montreal; Additional reporting by Kate Abnett and Marine Strauss in Brussels and David Shepardson in Washington; Editing by Marguerita Choy