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  • Is China dictating Europe’s climate policy?

    The EU’s decision to ‘stop the clock’ on including emissions from intercontinental flights in its Emissions Trading Scheme appears to have been influenced by Chinese threats to cancel orders for new planes from Airbus. A letter from the president of the French aircraft maker to China’s leading aviation official – seen by Reuters – says Airbus played an influential role in persuading the EU to give the world’s governments another year to reach agreement on how to tackle carbon emissions from air transport. T&E says European governments have effectively given China ‘a veto over European policy’.

    Yet despite claims that charging for emissions from flights that involved a non-EU airport was a breach of international sovereignty, a legal challenge by a group of American airlines was emphatically rejected in 2011, and the scheme came into effect on 01 January 2012. But last November, the EU agreed to delay charging for emissions of international flights for one year, to allow ICAO time to reach a global deal – this agreement became known as ‘stop the clock’. The EU has always said it preferred a global scheme rather than regional action.

    According to Reuters, a letter from the president of Airbus, Fabrice Bregier suggests commercial pressures were behind the ‘stop the clock’ decision. Bregier wrote to Li Jiaxiang, the government official in charge of the Chinese civil aviation administration, just four days after the ‘stop the clock’ decision was announced, saying Airbus had been ‘very active’ in supporting China’s preference for a global emissions trading system. China responded last month by confirming part of the 45-plane suspended order.

    T&E aviation manager Bill Hemmings said: ‘It is an extremely serious matter that Airbus has lobbied the EU to ‘Stop the Clock’ on behalf of China in such a brazen fashion. Airbus already enjoys massive financial support from the EU precisely because it is European, yet now appears to have put its own commercial interests before its legal obligations to uphold cornerstone EU environmental law aimed at protecting European citizens. There are also questions to be asked of the British, French and German governments, all of whom have significant claims in Airbus’ parent company EADS, who look to have caved in to China’s threats through Airbus’ lobbying. Where are we if our own governments hand the Chinese a veto over European foreign policy?

    Reuters quotes Bregier as saying in his letter to China: ‘Through our joint efforts, we have managed to ensure that Chinese airlines are not unfairly impacted by the scheme as previously planned. I hope we at Airbus have been able to clearly demonstrate our strong support to Chinese aviation.’

    The EU says its clock will restart in September if no agreement on a global emissions trading scheme is reached at ICAO’s triennial general assembly.