Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, October 6, 2016

Contacts:  Patrick Sullivan, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 517-9364,
Marcie Keever, Friends of the Earth, (510) 900-3144,

Airlines Will Pay Just Pennies on Dollar for Climate Pollution Under New Global 'Offset' Scheme

Weak Market-based Measure Allows Airplanes' Greenhouse Pollution to Triple

MONTREAL— A market-based carbon-offset scheme for the airline industry approved today by the International Civil Aviation Organization, or ICAO, will not curb airplanes' planet-warming pollution, projected to triple by 2050.

The international organization’s scheme is completely voluntary until 2027, doesn’t kick in until 2021, covers just one-quarter of total emissions, and offloads the airlines’ carbon debt onto third parties through “offset credits” of unspecified environmental quality. Airlines participating in the system could pay as little as 3 cents on the dollar for the climate damages of international flights, according to one recent estimate.

“This dangerous shell game does little more than help airlines hide their rapidly growing threat to our climate,” said Vera Pardee, a Center for Biological Diversity attorney who has sued the U.S. federal government over aviation emissions. “The world needs less polluting planes, not a dubious offset scheme that just passes off the industry's exploding carbon debt to someone else. This weak measure puts new pressure on U.S. officials to take stronger steps to curb aviation’s skyrocketing emissions.”

The airline industry has endorsed the credits in lieu of tough emission standards, despite a recent report showing that available and cost-effective technical efficiency improvements could reduce emissions from new aircraft some 25 percent by 2024 and 40 percent by 2034.

The ICAO system will cover about 25 percent of total international emissions, since all emissions below 2020 levels are grandfathered. Until 2027 all offset purchases are voluntary.

Whether the offsets will have any benefit for the climate is far from clear. In August nonprofit observers evaluating the offsets gave their environmental integrity an overall “D,” with critical elements such as accounting veracity and biofuel sustainability getting an incomplete and an “F.”

Today's market-based measure follows lax ICAO emission standards agreed to last February. Those earlier standards will not curb emissions and do not meet U.S. legal requirements, and the new offset scheme does not plug the gap. That puts new pressure on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to step in with ambitious Clean Air Act emission standards that will cost-effectively prevent emissions in the first place rather than paper them over with often cheap and ineffective offsets.

“The evidence of climate change is becoming clearer each and every day,” said Marcie Keever, legal director for Friends of the Earth. “The Obama administration must not rely on faulty offset schemes for aircraft CO2 from the ICAO, but act immediately to curb aircraft’s significant contribution to greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.”

The EPA in July officially acknowledged in a final “endangerment finding” that planet-warming pollution from airplanes disrupts the climate and endangers human welfare. But the agency failed to move forward on standards to reduce aircraft emissions.

Airplane greenhouse gas pollution is growing rapidly. If commercial aviation were considered a country, it would rank seventh after Germany in terms of carbon emissions. Airplanes could generate 43 gigatonnes of planet-warming pollution through 2050, consuming more than 4 percent of the world’s entire remaining carbon budget, according to a recent Center report.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Friends of the Earth fights to create a more healthy and just world. Our current campaigns focus on promoting clean energy and solutions to climate change, keeping toxic and risky technologies out of the food we eat and products we use, and protecting marine ecosystems and the people who live and work near them.

Go back