[mailchimp_signup][/mailchimp_signup]EU environment ministers have watered down European plans to tackle the environmental implications of aviation. In a parallel development, the Commission has proposed being far more lenient on airlines than on electricity companies.
The Commission’s proposals to include aviation in the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) have been broadly agreed within Europe, but with three central elements to be decided: the date it comes into effect, the baseline year from which all reductions are to be measured, and the amount of tradable credits the airlines will have to pay for.
In November, MEPs tightened the Commission’s draft legislation, calling for the start date to be 2011 for all flights (the EC said flights involving non-EU airports could begin in 2012), and for the airlines to have to buy 25% of credits at auction (not 3%). But just before Christmas, environment ministers said the scheme should be delayed until 2012, and airlines should have to pay for only 10% of the credits.
‘It’s a shameful end to a year filled with promise for action on climate change,’ said T&E policy officer João Vieira. ‘If environment ministers get their way, the scheme simply won’t cut emissions, they’ll be 90% up on 1990 levels, and it will end up being another subsidy to the aviation industry.’
The 27 ministers did not discuss two other suggestions by MEPs: that an emissions ‘multiplier’ should be added to reflect the greater damage caused by gases emitted at altitude, and clauses to ensure aviation cuts its own emissions rather than buys cheap permits from other sectors.
T&E has calculated that the Commission’s proposals were so weak they would offset just one year’s growth in aviation emissions, yet ministers wanted to weaken them still further.
The ministers’ vote did nothing to placate the White House, which remains hostile to any plans to tackle aviation’s environmental impact outside a global agreement. But signs that the White House may be out of step with US opinion came in December when five states plus Washington DC and New York City called on the US Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from all aircraft using American airports.
Environmental groups in Europe have been calling for airlines to be forced to buy 100% of their emissions permits under the ETS, and the Commission has confirmed it is asking the power sector to do just that. It justifies its decision by saying there are no competitiveness issues as the ETS affects all companies equally, and electricity companies can pass the costs on to their customers.
Vieira said: ‘The Commission’s own studies show that the aviation business can just as easily pass on the costs of permits to customers, as they will all be affected, regardless of nationality. The airlines will therefore make massive windfall profits. Bizarrely, there seems to be one rule for electricity production and another for aviation, the fastest growing source of carbon emissions in Europe.’
• Among a ‘2007 top ten’ of European achievements, the Commission listed both leadership in ‘the fight against global warming’ and ‘cheaper airfares to the USA’ through the ‘open skies’ agreement. Vieira added: ‘That the EU celebrates when it makes the world’s most polluting form of transport even cheaper is incomprehensible.’