• First EU aviation deal confirmed – but is it a milestone or a missed opportunity?

    The EU's first legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from aviation has been formally agreed by MEPs and governments – but only after a series of compromises that caused T&E to describe it as 'a historic missed opportunity'.

    [mailchimp_signup][/mailchimp_signup]The historic milestone was reached when MEPs and national governments agreed to a set of terms for aviation’s entry into the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS). The terms were agreed by the European Parliament by 640 votes to 20 earlier this month, which means all flights involving the EU from 1 January 2012 will need carbon dioxide emissions permits.

    Yet the compromises failed to make the proposal effective in reducing emissions. T&E policy officer João Vieira said: ‘Environmental campaigners have consistently said the plan must deliver real reductions in greenhouse gases, but this deal will offset just one year’s growth in emissions from aviation based on the Commission’s own analysis.’

    MEPs wanted an earlier start date, stricter limits on the amount of CO2 that can be emited and a multiplier to account the non-CO2 impacts of aviation. Under pressure from governments, they have agreed to a compromise that will mean:
    • the scheme will apply to all flights from 2012
    • emissions from aircraft will be 97% of 2004-06 levels for 2012, and 95% in 2013; MEPs had wanted 90% of 2004-06 levels
    • airlines will have to pay for 15% of their allowance allocation, not the 25% MEPs wanted
    • there will be no specific use for the revenue, but governments must report on how the money is used, and are recommended to use it for low emission modes of transport.


    The German MEP shepherding the legislation, Peter Liese, said the deal was ‘perhaps not as ambitious as some environmental groups would have wanted, but we would never have had a compromise if we had insisted.’ He said he would like an international agreement on aviation emissions but would have to wait ‘until the US has elected a president who takes climate protection seriously.’
    Vieira added: ‘National governments should take the blame for failing to deliver a law that will actually cut emissions. MEPs had asked for a number of measures that could have resulted in real emissions cuts from aviation, but governments once again took the side of their flag-carrying airlines. We should be marking a historic deal to cut international aviation emissions, but in fact we are marking a historic missed opportunity.’

    The Green MEP Caroline Lucas said: ‘It’s disappointing to see the gap between the rhetoric of national governments and the political will to act.’

    The Association of European Airlines is warning that the measure may drive airlines to use non-EU airports, and there are some who are still questioning the legality of the deal as it involves non-EU airlines.

    Air transport accounts for between 4% and 9% of human climate changing activities (2000 figures), and has by far the greatest climate impact of any transport mode. Airlines often quote the impact as 2%, but this is CO2 emissions only, and CO2 makes up about 50% of greenhouse gases.