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Carbon emissions from all aircraft using EU airports were subject to permits from the start of last year under plans to include aviation in the ETS. But after strong economic and political pressure from the US, Russia, China, India, Brazil and other countries, the EU agreed to a year’s delay in enforcing the requirements for intercontinental flights. This became known as ‘stopping the clock’, and was agreed by the European Parliament on the strict understanding that the delay would allow ICAO sufficient time to agree a global market-based measure at its assembly earlier this month.
In the end the ICAO assembly agreed only to open discussions on the details of such a measure, with a decision due to be taken in 2016 and a target start date of 2020. But all this came amid an unprecedented level of discord. In an attempt to reach a compromise, the EU proposed a change to the ETS under which only emissions over EU airspace would require permits. This ‘airspace approach’ was aimed at satisfying concerns expressed by the US, but the Americans sided with developing countries in opposing it. In a subsequent vote, the assembly restated its position that measures to reduce emissions from aircraft could only happen under bilateral agreements.
Although ICAO resolutions are not mandatory, the EU has been quick to respond with a proposed change to its ETS rules. This change follows the airspace approach rejected by ICAO, and is based on Europe having the sovereign right to regulate emissions in its airspace. It also includes a full exemption for flights to and from third countries which are not developed and produce less than 1% of global aviation emissions. The airline industry responded by saying the proposal would upset the political agreement reached at ICAO and dismissed the text as only a draft.
T&E’s aviation manager, Bill Hemmings, said: ‘It is disgraceful that foreign and industry pressure has obliged Europe to shrink its own aviation emissions law to the bare minimum. Europe’s ETS, the only international measure that genuinely reduces emissions from international aviation, has been severely cut back by ICAO delegates more interested in evading responsibility than protecting the environment. While aviation emissions are skyrocketing, ICAO passes a resolution plagued by exceptions, weak language and reservations. What will future generations make of it?’
It is still unclear how MEPs and member states will respond to the Commission’s proposal. However, earlier this month the legislation’s rapporteur, MEP Peter Liese, said he thought colleagues would support it as the changes didn’t represent a full capitulation, only a watering down of existing legislation.