Create a UK gold standard offset scheme
Offsets should not be the first choice method for reaching net zero emissions in any sector. The emphasis should always be on emissions reduction first. However, aviation will be one of the hardest sectors to decarbonise and reaching absolute zero emissions by 2050 is likely impossible. High quality offsets will be necessary to limit the climate impact of flying in the short to medium term.
The UN’s Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) is not as ambitious as the UK should or could be on offsets. Although a global approach to offsets is appealing for competitiveness reasons, the current framework is unwieldy, insufficiently ambitious, and already out of date. This damages the legitimacy of offsets. The UK should therefore introduce an additional offsetting scheme that acts as a home-grown gold standard.
Offsets in the past have a poor track record when it comes to delivering on promised emissions reductions, which is why strong regulation is critical. For the best climate impact, offsetting should exclusively deliver negative emissions, rather than avoided emissions. This means offsets, such as tree planting, should actively fund the removal of carbon from the atmosphere that aviation has produced, rather than simply funding alternative emissions reduction, which will need to happen anyway, such as offshore wind farms.
Offsets should also have to meet stringent requirements on equivalence, additionality, permanence, and sustainability. There should be an independent accreditation scheme and oversight body to ensure these requirements are being met. We propose that aviation offsets are used to fund nature-based solutions to climate change in the UK and overseas such as afforestation or wetland restoration. This will help meet some of the huge funding gaps for halting and reversing the decline of nature.
CORSIA aims to make all growth in international flights after 2020 carbon neutral and is currently set to expire in 2035. It doesn’t offset pre-2020 emission levels, however, which is a major deficiency in the scheme. Developing a high quality, domestic scheme will help remedy the scheme’s shortfalls.
We propose that airlines should be mandated to take part in the scheme to offer clearly labelled, high quality offsets for the flight’s total emissions, but passengers should be able to choose whether to buy the offset. This will avoid potential international competitiveness concerns.