The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has won support from members worldwide to support a mandatory emissions offsetting scheme in which all operators would have to buy carbon credits from other industries to offset their future growth. A mandatory carbon offsetting scheme is the simplest and most effective market-based measure (MBM) to reach carbon neutral growth from 2020, IATA believes.

The proposal is part of a set of guidelines that the body developed ahead of the ICAO Assembly in September, when states are expected to produce an agreement on MBMs or a global emissions-trading scheme (ETS) to avoid a re-activation of the European Union’s temporary freeze of the ETS for flights to and from Europe.

The framework was adopted by a large majority of the IATA members at the body’s annual general meeting in Cape Town, although some carriers including Air China and Air India voted against it, with Air China arguing that it does not sufficiently take into account the difference between operators in developing countries and developed countries.

“Bridging the very different circumstances of fast-growing airlines in emerging markets and those in more mature markets required a flexible approach and mutual understanding,” IATA Director General and CEO Tony Tyler admits, noting that compromise will be necessary.

The IATA proposal does not offer a solution on how to find the right balance, but it accepts the principle that there should be adjustments accommodating new market entrants for their initial years of operation and for fast-growing carriers. It also calls for the acceptance of an equitable balance for determining individual carrier responsibilities that include consideration of an “emissions share” element (reflecting the carrier’s share of total industry emissions) and a post-2020 “growth” element (reflecting the carrier’s growth above baseline emissions levels). In addition, IATA supports a reporting and verification process for carbon emissions that is based on a global standard to be developed by ICAO, and a system that is simple and scalable based on the size and complexity of the operator.

The resolution will now be developed into an industry position paper for ICAO, and IATA will work with governments to recommend the industry position. “Now the ball is in the court of governments,” Tyler says, adding that this industry agreement should help “to relieve the political gridlock on this important issue and give governments momentum and a set of tools as they continue their difficult deliberations.”

A single global scheme is part of a basket of measures, and the mandatory offsetting “will be critical in the short-term as a gap-filler until technology, operations and infrastructure solutions mature. So we cannot take our eye off the ball on developing sustainable low-carbon alternative fuels, achieving the Single European Sky or the host of other programs that will improve aviation’s environmental performance,” warns Tyler.

ICAO’s high-level group (HLG) met once last year and twice this year, and so far has not found a common position on a single mechanism and a framework for MBMs. There has been a “flip-flop” between a single global mechanism, and a looser framework for MBMs providing guidance on how states could implement their own MBMs. Options for a single scheme adopted by all states include mandatory offsetting, mandatory offsetting with revenue and a global emissions-trading scheme. Carbon offsetting is seen as far less complex and costly to implement than emissions trading.

The output of the HLG’s deliberations will go to the ICAO Council next week in order to prepare for the assembly in September.