• Obama administration attacks EU aviation emissions trading plan

    America is making a new attempt to stop the EU introducing aviation into its Emissions Trading Scheme in 2012. The USA, backed by Canada and Mexico, is submitting a resolution to the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s triennial general assembly later this month, saying emissions trading should only apply to nations who have specifically agreed to it. The EU’s climate commissioner said the USA was seeking to put up barriers for others when it had not done anything to tackle the problem itself.

    The resolution, that will be debated at Icao’s general assembly, says countries ‘seeking to implement an emissions trading system that applies to other states’ aircraft operators’ should only be allowed to do so ‘on the basis of mutual agreement’. In other words, any single country would have the right to say its airlines do not have to pay any charges for the gases their aircraft emit.

    According to the International Herald Tribune newspaper, which has seen a copy of the draft resolution, the three North American countries admit that pressure is increasing to establish international rules on aviation emissions, but said there was ‘no consensus on such a global approach at this time’.

    The EU’s climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard said the USA had effectively demanded ‘a veto right over what measures states can take to limit the climate impacts of aviation’. She added that the North American resolution was ‘obviously a recipe for continued global inaction and not what we need to move this agenda forward in a positive and constructive way’.

    Even if it were passed, the resolution would be non-binding, so the EU could ignore it, but aside from the political pressure to delay the start date that the resolution might cause, the initiative suggests the political climate in Washington towards tackling aviation’s emissions might not be changing.

    ‘We had hoped the Obama administration would be more environmentally aware than the Bush administration,’ said T&E policy officer Bill Hemmings. ‘This is a setback to those hopes. It appears from this activity that America is continuing the Bush line of attacking aviation’s introduction into the ETS through the back door of insisting on mutual agreement. Given all the evidence about the carbon-intensity of aviation and the supposed greater environmental awareness under Barack Obama, this is deeply disappointing.’

    Three of the leading American airlines and the Air Transport Association of America are also challenging the legality of putting aviation into the ETS. The European Court of Justice is currently considering the challenge. T&E and several other environmental groups will give evidence in the case.

    At the same time, the three airlines (American, Continental and United) have been making preparations to join the ETS. They have had monitoring plans approved, which means they would qualify for 85% of their permits to be free-of-charge.

    T&E has always said emissions trading must be seen as a first step towards tackling aviation’s environmental impact, not a solution on its own. In a letter to the Financial Times newspaper earlier this month, Hemmings called for an end to air transport’s exemption from fuel taxes and value-added tax when the Commission reviews the EU’s energy taxation and VAT directives later this year. He described the VAT exemption for aviation as ‘blatantly unfair and makes EU climate policy needlessly inefficient’.

    The failure to include emissions from international aviation and shipping in the Kyoto protocol could wipe out 2-3% of the EU’s emissions savings, according to a study by the Stockholm Environment Institute and Third World Network. The unpublished study says that, instead of cutting emissions by 12% between 1990 and 2012, the EU could see them rise by 9% by 2020 because of four loopholes, of which aviation and shipping emissions are one.