• EU governments dismantle emissions trading for international aviation

    EU member states yesterday succumbed to pressure from third countries and the aviation industry and decided to shrink the aviation emissions trading system (ETS) to only cover flights between EU airports until 2016. This decision leaves long-haul flights totally unregulated and sends the signal internationally that EU sovereignty can be curtailed through outside pressure.

    This deal would reduce the amount of CO2 emissions covered by three quarters if compared with the original scheme, which sought to charge carbon fees for the full length of flights in and out of the EU. It shrinks coverage by a third compared with the Commission proposal, backed by the environment committee of the European Parliament, which sought to cover emissions from flights in EU airspace and capture at least a part of emissions from flights to and from third countries.

    The decision essentially represents an extension of the one-year suspension known as ‘stop the clock’ until 2016. Stop the clock was an interim solution devised in 2012 to allow ICAO, the United Nations aviation body, to agree a global scheme to tackle aviation’s climate impact. But last October ICAO failed to make meaningful progress, merely agreeing to ‘develop’ (which is not the same as implement) a global deal for 2020.

    On a positive note, yesterday’s decision also envisions a ‘snapback’ to the original ETS in 2017, if ICAO fails to deliver credible progress towards the global deal by its next assembly in September 2016.

    Bill Hemmings, aviation manager at Transport & Environment, said: “With this deal European governments have conceded again to international pressure without getting anything meaningful in return, let alone guarantees that soaring international aviation emissions will one day be tackled. Shrinking the aviation ETS to cover intra-EU flights effectively amounts to the dismantling of a European climate law. We urge MEPs to stand firm for Europe’s principles and sovereign rights, especially in today’s circumstances, and reject this deal.”

    The governments of France, Germany, and the UK spearheaded this decision arguing that taking long-haul flights out of the ETS would ease tensions with foreign countries and lessen enforcement problems. However, the smaller scope of the ETS hardly reduces the number of foreign carriers covered. In addition, so far EU regulators have even failed to enforce breaches by the Chinese, Indian and Saudi carriers operating flights between two European airports.

    Members of the European Parliament will have to approve the EU government’s decision for it to become law. If the Parliament rejects the deal, the original EU law will resume with full effect.

    Aviation is the most carbon-intensive transport mode, responsible for about 5% of man-made climate change. If aviation were a country it would be ranked 7th in the world for CO2 emissions – between Germany and Korea. EU aviation emissions, a third of global totals, have doubled since 1990 and will triple by 2050 if unchecked.