Aviation emissions trading slashed by 75% until 2017

Long-haul flights to and from Europe will continue to be excluded from the EU emissions trading system (ETS) after MEPs voted last month to accept a compromise brokered with EU governments. The agreement means that, until 2017, only flights between EU airports will be regulated – a 75% cut in emissions covered compared with the original ETS.

The inclusion of aviation in the ETS, agreed in 2008, covered emissions from all flights to, from and within Europe and entered force in 2012. However, an interim one-year freeze of the law, known as ‘stop the clock’, was hurriedly agreed in late 2012  to allow time for the UN’s aviation body, ICAO, to agree a global measure to reduce aviation emissions at its 2013 triennial assembly.
 
The Parliament’s plenary has voted to extend ‘stop the clock’ to 2017, meaning that only intra-EU flights will be covered until then, and included a provision that if ICAO fails to agree a global measure by 2017, the original ETS will ‘snapback’ at that time.
 
At its assembly last October, ICAO agreed to ‘develop’ a global measure for 2020, with the details to be agreed by its next assembly in September 2016. However, T&E said failure by the UN body would mean EU lawmakers would have to act. ‘If no meaningful progress is made in ICAO in 2016, the pressure on decision-makers to stand by their promise to revert back to a full aviation ETS will be overwhelming,’ said Bill Hemmings, T&E’s sustainable aviation manager.
 
Europe’s lawmakers and governments had come under significant pressure from third countries and the aviation industry to shrink the ETS. In the Council of Ministers, member states, led by the Airbus countries UK, France and Germany, had argued that conceding on the EU’s sovereign right to regulate in its airspace was preferable to upsetting third countries like Russia, China, the US and India. Yet, in March, China unblocked orders for 27 wide-body Airbus aircraft, which it had delayed as a means to exert pressure on European policymakers, and also placed further orders.
 
Hemmings continued: ‘Just when the IPCC’s latest report shows how climate change is already affecting every aspect of human life, European governments and politicians have chosen to effectively scrap the only law in the world that attempts to curb aviation’s soaring emissions. Regulating emissions in European airspace is not only our right, but also our obligation – something those who cried wolf about a ‘trade war’ seem to have forgotten.’
 
Aviation is the most carbon-intensive transport mode, responsible for about 5% of man-made climate change. If it were a country, aviation would be ranked 7th in the world for CO2 emissions – between Germany and Korea. EU aviation emissions, a third of global totals, have doubled since 1990 and will triple by 2050 if unchecked.