Airlines’ emissions reduction program faces shortage of carbon credits

By Allison Prang | 03/08/2024 06:48 AM EST

Only two carbon-crediting programs have full approval to participate in the first phase of the program that kicked off this year.

American Airlines planes are parked at Pittsburgh International Airport in Imperial, Pennsylvania.

An international program that requires airlines to offset emissions by buying carbon credits is facing a supply shortage. Gene J. Puskar/AP

A program designed to make international travel more sustainable is facing a potential stumbling block as airlines struggle to find enough carbon credits to offset their emissions.

More than 100 countries are participating in the first phase of the International Civil Aviation Organization’s emissions reduction program, known as CORSIA, which requires airlines to buy carbon credits to offset international flights. The phase kicked off at the start of the year, but industry officials and observers say there aren’t enough eligible credits for airlines to achieve compliance.

This shortage of credits underscores how tricky it can be to implement a global emissions reduction program for hard-to-abate sectors like aviation. It’s also proof of how tough it is to simultaneously ensure that the carbon credit market has sufficient supply while making sure those credits are high quality and tied to projects that will deliver the environmental benefits they promise.


“There [are] projects that are starting to get qualified, [but] not as much as we’re going to need,” said Lauren Riley, chief sustainability officer for United Airlines. “There does need to be a really focused effort in these coming years to make sure that we have the kind of high-integrity carbon offset programs that will be required for us to meet our obligations.”