The EU’s pioneering plan to take a first step towards reducing emissions from aviation was to require emissions permits for the whole length of all flights starting or finishing in the EU, from January 2012. Later that year, as a gesture to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) which claimed to be working on a global initiative, the EU agreed to ‘stop the clock’ by limiting emissions trading to intra-EU flights.
The term ‘stop the clock’ became shorthand for giving one year’s delay to emissions trading for flights from and to Europe to help ICAO reach agreement at its general assembly in September 2013. So ‘stop the clock’ means only intra-EU flights under the ETS. ICAO only promised to ‘develop’, i.e. not adopt, a global measure, yet is still pressuring the EU to make ‘stop the clock’ permanent, and it has the support of France, Germany and the UK.
This is what the environment committee has now objected to – it supported the Commission’s stance that at least the portion of long-haul flights that takes place in EU airspace should be subject to emissions permits. This is a concession from the original legislation to include aviation in the EU’s emissions trading scheme (ETS), and is consistent with states’ rights of sovereignty over their airspace.
T&E aviation manager Bill Hemmings said: ‘Most of aviation’s greenhouse gases come from long-haul flights, so if you exclude those, you are letting the worst offenders slip through the net. That is environmentally and economically unacceptable. MEPs should be congratulated for standing up to political pressure from member states and industry, and we support the Parliament’s rapporteur Peter Liese in his negotiations to secure agreement with member states on this matter.’
The French, German and British governments have been arguing for ‘stop the clock’ to apply at least until 2016 and possibly until 2020. Among other things, they argue that excluding long-haul flights will lessen problems of enforcing emissions, yet EU regulators have already failed to enforce breaches of the existing intra-EU rules by Chinese, Indian and Saudi Arabian airlines.
Hemmings added: ‘It is untenable that France, Germany and the UK are failing to enforce the 2012 legislation – this sends a signal to third countries that EU sovereignty doesn’t matter and EU rules can be ignored.’
Limiting the requirements for emissions permits to intra-EU flights also discriminates against short-haul airlines, as most of their flights are subject to emissions trading while the more polluting long-haul flights that start or finish outside the EU are exempt. This led to an unlikely alliance of T&E and the European Low Fares Airline Association, which held a joint news conference last month calling on MEPs to support the Commission’s proposal.
The association’s secretary-general John Hanlon said: ‘To prolong the one-year-only “stop the clock” as the basis of the ETS is not only discriminatory but environmentally ineffective, as it captures only 20% of EU aviation emissions of CO2 while letting long-haul flights off the hook.’