Press Release

EU emissions trading plan set for takeoff despite transatlantic rift

September 28, 2007

The EU will press ahead with plans to integrate aviation into its emissions trading system despite a major rift within the UN body responsible for the sector.

[mailchimp_signup][/mailchimp_signup]The 2007 Assembly of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) which closes today in Montreal has passed a resolution that says members should sign separate agreements with all third countries operating in its airspace before applying emissions trading to their carriers.

In a rare and unusual diplomatic move EU member states, and others (1) made a ‘reservation’ against the ICAO resolution on ‘market-based measures’, signaling that they would ignore it on legal grounds. The resolution, including a critical ‘mutual agreement’ clause, was strongly backed by the United States, but was completely unacceptable to EU countries because it effectively disables the effectiveness of their emissions trading plan.

João Vieira of Transport and Environment (T&E), a Brussels based environmental group that has official observer status at ICAO (2), said: “After a shameful decade of obstruction and inaction ICAO must now be stripped of its environmental responsibilities. The EU has recognised that it must now take the lead in cutting emissions from the most polluting form of transport on the planet.” (3)

Under the terms of the 1997 Kyoto protocol, responsibility for reducing emissions from international aviation was given to ICAO, a UN body. But over the last decade the organisation has successively failed to endorse, or issued negative statements on every serious policy option for cutting greenhouse gas emissions from the sector. (4)

Regional emissions trading schemes were supported at the last Assembly in 2004 but the ‘mutual agreement’ clause endorsed this time would effectively prevent them from working as it would result in discrimination on the basis of nationality of the carrier. Such discrimination is illegal under the terms of the Chicago Convention, the rules that govern international aviation.

Though ICAO guidance is not legally-binding, up until now the EU has had a long-standing commitment to act within the ICAO framework. The formal ‘reservation’ made by the EU this week signals the end of that commitment.

Notes to editors

(1) The EU position was supported by the member countries of the wider European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC) which includes Norway, Switzerland and Turkey.

(2) T&E coordinates the International Coalition for Sustainable Aviation (ICSA) which has observer status at the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

(3) Aviation has by far the greatest climate impact of any transport mode, whether measured per passenger kilometre, per tonne kilometre, per € spent, or per hour spent. See the T&E report, ‘Clearing the Air: the myth and reality of aviation and climate change’

(4) History of ICAO’s record on aviation and climate change policy:
– In a resolution in 1996, reconfirmed in 2001, ICAO requested states not to apply fuel taxes as an environmental measure.

– In 2001 ICAO rejected the concept of CO2 emissions standards for planes. The same year the organisation refused to endorse a closed emissions trading scheme for aviation.

– Having previously said so-called ’emissions charges’ were preferable to taxes, by 2004 ICAO had also removed them from the list of options at least for a further three years.

– Finally, in 2004 ICAO said it would not set up a global emissions trading scheme for aviation.

– The result of the above decisions was that by the end of 2004, states wanting to act on greenhouse gas emissions within ICAO’s guidelines had just one option left, an initiative by states or regions to include aviation into their own emissions trading schemes.

– ICAO offered to provide guidance for regional emissions trading schemes such as the EU system currently being developed.

– At the 2007 ICAO assembly regional emissions trading schemes were effectively disabled by a US-led initiative requiring ‘mutual agreement’ with all third countries affected. The EU made a ‘formal’ reservation against this and will press ahead without support of ICAO.

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