Towards a sustainable future: Carbonsink & Finnair's Climate Strategy

 CORSIA, Global Measure for Climate Change Mitigation

In 2016, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) adopted the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) to address CO2 emissions from international aviation. A historic decision, which for the first time saw a single industrial sector to agree a global market-based measure to limit the CO2 emissions and to set the goal for Carbon Neutral growth.

CORSIA is the first global agreement to limit the CO2 emissions of an entire sector and to set the ambitious goal of Carbon Neutral growth. This agreement is an important political result as the divergent opinions of the 192 ICAO members have been reconciled into a single mechanism that considers their respective peculiarities.

At the beginning of the year 2019, the first step of CORSIA was marked, with the start of the emission monitoring phase. The program itself will come into full function starting from January 2021 with a first pilot phase that will last until 2023: 2019 and 2020 represent the reference period (baseline) with which the emissions of the following years will be compared (starting from 2021), if the emissions of each year exceed the average emissions of the period 2019-2020 the airline company must compensate for this difference.

According to the ICAO, international aviation alone would account for around 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions ["Global Warming of 1.5 ºC", IPCC Report, October 2018]. The expected demand for carbon credits for the needs of the CORSIA members depends strongly on the performance of the aviation sector and its growth. Today, it is estimated a use of carbon credits between 1.6 and 3.6 billion credits between 2021 and 2035.

Since 2016, the year of its introduction, CORSIA has not been exempt from strong criticism, despite the optimism that continues to distinguish it. We all know very well that the issue of reducing and offsetting CO2 emissions, and the carbon market, are fundamental components of climate change mitigation and of an effective and long-term climate action. However, this is not enough, the airlines want ICAO to provide clear rules: they do not want to be criticized by public opinion about the nature of their climate protection efforts, nor financial and reputational risks associated with the critical issue of "double counting".

To guarantee the environmental integrity of CORSIA, in March 2019, ICAO published a set of guidelines regarding the selection of carbon credits for offsetting, aligned with the main and most important international carbon standards:

  1. It is essential that the reduction or removal of CO2 used as compensation is "additional". Offsets must represent a permanent emissions reduction.
  2. Emission reductions must be quantified using accurate measurements, valid protocols and internationally recognized; it is necessary to determine a baseline to determine what would have happened if the project had not been carried out.
  3. Keep track (transparency) of the units to prevent a reduction in emissions from being counted more than once. The effective emissions reductions must be measured with officially recognized scientific methods and the verification must be carried out by a neutral, third-party entity, able to verify the effective emissions reductions.
  4. Carbon credits must have a chain of custody, clear and transparent, within the compensation program; all carbon credits are entered in the international registers for a complete guarantee and marked with a special identification number.
  5. Carbon credits must represent a reduction, avoidance or sequestration of emission that are permanent.
  6. Carbon credits must be generated by projects that do not cause a substantial increase in emissions elsewhere (this concept is also known as dispersion).
  7. Measures must be taken to avoid:
    1. Double issue that occurs if more than one unit is issued for the same emissions or emission reduction.
    2. Double use that occurs when the same unit issued is used twice, for example if a unit is duplicated in the registers.
    3. Double claim that occurs if the same reduction in emissions is counted twice by both the buyer and the seller
  8. Projects able to generate carbon credits must not violate local, state / provincial, national or international regulations. Offset programs must disclose processes and procedures used to manage environmental and social risks.

The eligibility criteria published by ICAO, as mentioned above, are aligned with the with the minimum requirements for environmental integrity reflected in the main international standards, including Gold Standard.

Within the guidelines published in March, the need for avoiding the risk of double counting is emphasized as a fundamental principle for guaranteeing the integrity of international carbon trading.

The achievement of the objectives set by CORSIA will require constant investments in new technologies and strong support mechanisms for the affirmation of sustainable aviation. Offsetting of the emission is not a substitute for the efforts of airlines to improve technology and infrastructure to continue reducing emissions in the sector, rather the CORSIA program can concretely help the aviation sector to achieve its climate goals in the short and medium term by integrating the initiatives to reduce emissions within the sector without penalizing the growth of the sector.

In fact, the use of carbon credits will serve to compensate for the emissions linked to the growth of the company every year.

Finnair Push for Change

"We surely cannot change the world with a click, but starting a journey towards a more sustainable future, maybe yes" is what Finnair, the Finnish airline, declares and wants to do with the launch of the "Push for Change", the service that allows Finnair customers to compensate the climate impact  of their flights by financing a climate change mitigation project.

The benefits of air travel are undoubted but has though created an environmental challenge and this is why Finnair, aware of the centrality of the aviation sector and its importance as a source of income and employment for many countries - according to a 2016 estimate, the aviation sector has directly created two million jobs in the European Union - has decided to undertake an ambitious Climate Action.

Finnair's Climate Strategy respects the common objectives of the aviation sector, such as an improvement in fuel energy efficiency of 1.5% per annum, carbon neutrality by 2020 and a 50% reduction compared to 2005 level in total emissions by 2050, but seeks to take a step towards a low-carbon economy by setting a target to reduce the CO2 emissions of its flight operations relative to RTK by 17 % from the level of 2013 by 2020.

Finnair offers its customers a service to compensate the emissions related to the flights purchased. Through this service, Finnair customers will be able to make "donations" that will go to finance the emission reduction project chosen by Finnair, with a partnership with NEFCO (The Nordic Environment Finance Corporation).

The selected climate change mitigation project is implemented in Mozambique by Carbonsink and certified with Gold Standard. The project includes the distribution of efficient cookstoves, able to reduce the consumption of charcoal during the cooking activities with a consequent reduction of CO2 emissions i.e. on global climate change mitigation and contribute concretely to the improvement of living conditions by guaranteeing social and economic benefits to local communities.

Finnair's commitment to climate change mitigation is also a virtuous example of Customer Satisfaction: Push for Change was born from the desire to listen to the requests and desires of its customers who, after a research conducted by the Finnish airline, took the side of sustainability, declaring that they were willing to pay to reduce the significant release of CO2 into the atmosphere due to air travel. And Finnair's answer has been quick in arriving by offering new solutions that allow the customer to fly more responsibly and sustainably.

Carbonsink Project Developer & Gold Standard

Carbonsink is proud to have had our Gold Standard certified project chosen by one the major European airline. A great opportunity to demonstrate how the offset mechanism serves as a concrete internal policy for the transition toward a low-carbon economy.

Carbonsink, since 2015, is a member of ICROA (International Carbon Reduction and Offsetting Alliance) and is actively committed to promoting sustainable development in the projects it develops, committing itself to offering carbon credits certified with international standards, such as Gold Standard.

The project selected by Finnair, in collaboration with NEFCO, is developed in one of the poorest suburbs of Maputo, Mozambique, where the population density is very high and the hygiene conditions critical. The new efficient cookstoves will contribute to the mitigation of climate change thanks to the consistent reduction of charcoal combustion and the relative CO2 emissions produced.

The projects that distribute cookstoves provide important benefits for the health of the local communities thanks to an air quality improvement, mostly for women and children where the risks of respiratory diseases due to smoke inhalation and injuries caused by exposure to fires decrease. Furthermore, this type of project results as a substantial saving of financial resources thanks to the reduction of annual expenses used for the purchase of charcoal, thus contributing to the reduction of the poverty rate. Charcoal is also an important factor causing deforestation in Mozambique and, thus, reducing the charcoal consumption and production, will enhance the forests and biodiversity protection.

The financing of climate change mitigation projects located in developing countries produces benefits that are not only relevant to the environment and natural resources of our planet, but directly benefits the local communities. Stimulating local economies, providing income and education, improving health, combating inequalities and sharing new technologies to promote sustainable futures are just some of the benefits of high-quality projects aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Combining the mitigation of the effects of climate change with a real and measurable contribution to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals defined by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (United Nations) is one of the fundamental requirements of the Gold Standard certification.

Gold Standard is considered the benchmark standard for quality in the voluntary market, which is why Carbonsink choses to certify many of its climate mitigation projects to Gold Standard. Financing a Gold Standard certified project, as in Finnair case, means avoiding "SDG washing", with verified impacts to both the Paris Climate Agreement and Sustainable Development Goals.

Furthermore, the Gold Standard certified projects go further than the guidelines published by ICAO. In addition to the CO2 reduction, they Gold Standard certified projects maximize positive impacts, from improving health, protecting biodiversity, and enhancing livelihoods, driving true positive change for both climate security and the sustainable development of local communities and ecosystems.

Thanks to Sarah Leugers, Director of Communication at Gold Standard; and Laura Varja, Communication Specialist for Finnair, for the precious collaboration.


Camilla Pollini

Towards a sustainable future: Carbonsink & Finnair's Climate Strategy