Skip to content

Trump withdraws from the Paris Agreement: where does that leave US aviation emissions?

As the news sinks in that the Conservatives are joining forces with a party whose former environmental minister deemed climate change a “con”, and that “reluctant green” Michael Gove, who once attempted to wipe climate change from the school curriculum, takes over as Environment Secretary, we take a look across the pond at how Trump’s recent decision to pull the US out of the Paris Agreement will impact the country’s aviation emissions.

On Thursday 1st June, it was announced that Trump would be withdrawing the US from the Paris Agreement, a global commitment to combat climate change signed by world leaders in December 2015. This gave rise to questions about whether the President would also seek to back out of the voluntary phase of the Carbon Offset and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), a global agreement approved by 191 countries, including the United States, to curb greenhouse gases from aviation.

Under the Paris Agreement, states pledged to deliver national emission reductions targets which include the CO2 emissions from their domestic flights. CORSIA, established under a different UN process, attempts to fill a gap, addressing the emissions from aircraft flying between countries, which represent nearly 60% of aviation’s total global emissions. Under the deal, airlines will be able to purchase carbon credits from environmental projects to offset emissions from international flights that exceed the sector’s 2020 level. Mandatory from 2027, over 70 states have already opted to participate in the voluntary phrase from 2021 – 2026, covering around 80% of international aviation activity.

Certainly, CORSIA “complements” the Paris Agreement, but can one operate without the other?

Opinion seems to be divided. “CORSIA is in great jeopardy” states Aaron Karp of Air Transport World, “the two are inexorably linked”. Both have been successful in developing an international consensus that climate change needs to be addressed under a global strategy for reducing CO2 emissions. It was key to get everyone on board and “Trump has shattered that consensus” says Karp. But De Juniac, director general of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), insists it is not a setback for CORSIA, “they are completely separate of one another” he states.

Certainly US airlines have been quick to reaffirm their support for CORSIA following Trump’s announcement. Airlines for America, the trade group for major US carriers, stated it remained committed to the ICAO agreement. But US airlines have yet to add their name to the list of over 900 companies, states, cities and businesses that have announced they will continue to uphold the Paris Agreement in an open letter entitled “We are still in”. The absence of a US commitment to reduce domestic aviation emissions is particularly concerning for a country whose domestic aviation emissions account for nearly a fifth of total aviation emissions worldwide (approximately 147 Mt p.a.). We hope that US airlines will confirm that they too are “still in” and committed to tackling climate change.

The aviation emissions agreement remains “under review” according to a US State Department spokesperson, who adds “there is no deadline for action”. Should the US decide to withdraw from CORSIA it could undermine this first step forward in the challenge to tackle international aviation’s growing carbon emissions. It could also see a return to regional or national regulations, the very issue feared by industry and that had generated the momentum for a global approach in the first place.