• EU must not let US rule out sensible aviation options

    Editorial by Jos Dings This year has seen the first bit of good news in the aviation/environment field for several years. The Commission is now committed to including aviation emissions in the European Emissions Trading System (EU-ETS). Our response has been that this is a good first step – as long as it is seen as that. If it is viewed as enough in itself, we will not see real reductions in greenhouse gases from aircraft.

    [mailchimp_signup][/mailchimp_signup]So what is the second step? Even though some respected people have expressed reservations about kerosene tax, it is hard to see serious action to rein in aviation’s environmental impact without some taxing of aircraft fuel. In this context it is certainly essential to keep it as an option, but if the USA has its way, that option will be excluded.

    Last month talks were due to be held to renegotiate the EU-US aviation agreement, known as “open skies”. The existing bilateral agreement effectively rules out taxation on aviation fuel. This exemption stems from the period after World War Two when many governments looked to boost the fledgling international aviation industry. Sixty years on, times have changed but international aviation agreements have not.

    Greenhouse gas emissions from the aviation sector are growing by 4% per year and, unchecked, could be responsible for a quarter of the EU’s global warming impact by 2020. Including aviation emissions in the EU-ETS will help, but all the evidence suggests something else will be needed, and the only fair options are either en route emissions charges or fuel taxes.

    The EU has maintained, for a number of years, a policy of “keeping options open” with regard to environmental measures for the aviation sector. At last year’s general assembly of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (Icao), it was largely thanks to a united European-led effort that US moves to outlaw unilateral action in this area were held back.

    The fuel tax exemption limits Europe’s options. That is why the clause was deleted from the first agreement signed by the EU on behalf of all Member States with Chile earlier this year. Fifteen similar agreements due to be signed by the EU in the near future will also rightly give the signing parties the freedom to tax fuel if and when they see fit. By all logic the fuel tax exemption should be deleted from the EU-US agreement as well.

    But the US government is likely to fight tooth and nail for the retention of this protectionist measure. Europe should strongly resist this pressure – not least because the rest of the world will see the EU-US agreement as a template for many years to come. It would be foolish and irresponsible to limit our possible options for tackling greenhouse gas emissions at this stage, especially when such limits are dictated by an administration that has so far refused to acknowledge the scale of the challenge we face.

    This news story is taken from the November 2005 edition of T&E Bulletin.