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Aviation is one of the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions and the most climate-intensive form of transport. Aviation emissions have more than doubled in the last 20 years and the sector is responsible for an estimated 4.9% of man-made global warming. T&E campaigns with other actors, including members of the International Coalition for Sustainable Aviation (ICSA), for global targets and effective measures to reduce emissions within the aviation sector, for reduction measures at EU level to meet EU reduction targets and for removing exemptions on fuel taxation and VAT for airlines in the EU.

What's happening?

Under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), emissions from international aviation are not included in national targets. This is one of the reasons for aviation’s special treatment in climate policy. After years of waiting for the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to take action, the EU agreed in 2008 that emissions from international aviation would be included in its emissions trading system (EU ETS) from 1 January 2012.

This sparked a concerted reaction from the US, China, India and other states as well as industry who argued that measures should be agreed and implemented globally. As a compromise, the EU agreed in late 2012 to reduce the scope of aviation’s inclusion in the EU ETS to only those flights between EU airports until 1 January 2017. This was to give ICAO time to develop a global market-based measure for approval at its triennial assembly in October 2016.

T&E is working with its ICSA colleagues to ensure this scheme has strong environmental integrity; therefore, ICSA has developed a Litmus Test to determine what a credible scheme should contain.

However, the scheme under consideration by ICAO will only address emissions above 2020 levels, a degree of ambition wholly insufficient compared to the Paris Agreement’s negotiated objective that states should work towards limiting any temperature increase to 1.5ºC. It is therefore essential that other global measures are agreed, especially those that advance in-sector reductions, such as an efficiency standard for aircraft and ending subsidies.

While ICAO continues to lag on climate ambition, it is important that the EU shows leadership on this issue. The EU should therefore ensure that aviation emissions are included in its 2030 climate targets, and adopt measures that ensure the sector makes its fair contribution to reducing Europe’s emissions. This includes ending tax exemptions and subsidies and investing in low-carbon alternatives.

Since 1 January 2012, emissions from all commercial flights arriving at or departing from EU airports have been subject to the EU ETS. Meanwhile, negotiations have been slowly proceeding in the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) on the development of a global emissions scheme for aviation. At the end of 2012, these negotiations came to a standstill.

The EU therefore conceded to 'stop the clock' for one year on all international flights in the EU ETS, in order to allow ICAO to make real progress on the global emissions scheme. 'Stop the clock' means that only intra-EU flights are regulated under the ETS. 'Stop the clock' was supposed to be a temporary solution until global progress was made at ICAO. However, the ICAO assembly decision in October of 2013 was merely to ‘develop’ a scheme for international aviation emissions, without any definitive commitment. The European Commission has since then proposed to continue 'stop the clock' until 2017 anyway, to give ICAO even more time. In April 2014, the European Parliament voted to accept 'stop the clock' until 2017. This is an environmentally ineffective and unsustainable regulation of aviation emissions. Read more about why here.