USA orchestrating major push to stop aviation emissions trading

November 21, 2011

A leading American airline is thought to be behind an intensive push by the USA and other governments to prevent international aviation entering the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) in January. Earlier this month, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (Icao) approved a non-binding resolution calling on the EU to rethink emissions trading for flights involving non-EU airlines, while the US House of Representatives passed an ‘EU ETS Prohibition Act 2011’ saying US airlines should not be included. Yet T&E has discovered a former airline lawyer may well be behind these initiatives.

Last month’s strongly worded opinion by the advocate general of the European Court of Justice, which rejected claims that including non-EU airlines in the ETS was illegal, was a major setback for airlines opposed to emissions trading. But the airlines, clearly led by the USA, are still fighting on both legal and political grounds.

In addition, the US House of Representatives approved last month a draft law that appears to exclude US airlines from the ETS. The bill can only become law if approved by the Senate and President Barack Obama, but even then, it would amount to the USA calling on its airlines not to respect EU law. That is a risky strategy for the USA, as if that happened, the EU would not be bound to respect US law.

Then the governing council of Icao adopted a resolution asking the EU to rethink its inclusion of aviation in the ETS. The resolution was based on a declaration agreed at an earlier meeting in New Delhi in September, and was approved by Icao this month, even though eight of the 26 nations that supported it are not affected by the EU scheme. In addition, an Indian official heavily involved in arranging the Delhi declaration has admitted publicly: ‘The US wanted a platform, we were more than enthused to be one.’

According to files seen by T&E, the resolution adopted by Icao appears to have been drafted with the help of American aviation officials supervised by Julie Oettinger, who until June 2010 was the head lawyer at United Airlines. United is believed to be the main airline behind the US carriers’ legal objection to the EU ETS filed in early 2010. She left United to join the US government’s aviation regulator, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), as head of policy, international affairs and the environment. The computer file of the Delhi declaration shows the document’s author as ‘FAA’. In addition, the FAA website’s official biography of Oettinger makes no mention of her recent role with United but does mention a similar and more junior stint at US Airways a decade ago.

T&E aviation officer Bill Hemmings said: ‘American airlines are getting the developing world to do their dirty work. Developing nations are being asked to fight a proxy war on behalf of US airlines, who baulk at the thought of paying the equivalent of one cent per litre on aircraft fuel to fight climate change. The aviation industry is sending its lawyers to work in Europe and inside the US government to fight climate change policy – it should be sending its engineers to work to make cleaner planes.’

No European governments supported the Icao declaration, nor did Australia or Canada.

Meanwhile, a leading researcher at the London-based New Energy Finance consultancy says aviation’s entry into the ETS could help airlines increase their profits, rather than be an additional cost. Guy Turner, director of commodity market research, told the Bloomberg news agency that in around 2014 the aviation industry’s ability to increase fares will exceed its cost of paid-for carbon allowances, especially as it will still get 65% of permits for free but can increase fares irrespective of these free credits. Turner also said the costs to airlines of emissions trading will be 0.25% of revenue from the routes covered in 2012, and 0.5% in 2020.

  • The head of one of Europe’s busiest airports has accused the aviation industry of carrying on ‘a dialogue of the deaf’ with the environmental movement. David Rowlands of London-Gatwick airport said airlines and aircraft makers should sit down with ‘the more responsible end’ of the green movement to address the ‘what next?’ question. ‘We need to show we are ready to work towards solutions which reasonable and pragmatic people on both sides of the environmental debate can agree upon,’ Rowlands said.

Related Articles

View All