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Civil Aviation is playing a dangerous offsets game with our climate

As delegates from the UN’s aviation agency, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), gather in Montreal to agree details around an industry-wide carbon offsetting proposal, Fern reveals the dangers of the proposal by analysing Virgin Atlantic, Austrian Airlines and San Diego Airport’s current carbon offset projects.

In October 2016, ICAO adopted the Carbon Offsetting Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), which claims to ensure ‘carbon-neutral growth from 2020’.

ICAO’s ‘carbon neutral growth’ – a misnomer – in fact involves doubling emissions by 2050, consuming 20 per cent of the carbon we have left to emit before we exceed the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C. ICAO claims these emissions will be made carbon neutral with mass purchases of carbon offsets – namely paying someone else to prevent emissions elsewhere. Carbon offsets have received serious criticism about their actual impact on climate change – particularly when it comes to forest offset projects, which are notoriously difficult to measure and guarantee.

So far, the airline industry’s experience of forest offsets does not bode well. Fern has analysed two forest offset projects currently being offered by major international airlines to passengers wishing to make their flights ‘carbon neutral’ – one in Oddar Meanchey, Cambodia (which Virgin Atlantic offers to passengers), and the other in Mai N’dombe, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) (which Austrian Airlines and San Diego Airport offer). Not only have both projects caused serious human rights issues, they have also failed in their central goal of protecting forests. Their claims to render flights carbon neutral are therefore a dangerous illusion.