The beginning, not the end, of climate policy for aviation

Editorial by Jos Dings

Finally, after almost a decade of campaigning by environmental NGOs, not least T&E, there is a prospect on the horizon that greenhouse gas emissions from the aviation sector are going to be tackled in some way.

Sketch of some documents (default image for news

[mailchimp_signup][/mailchimp_signup]On the eve of the annual Green Week event at the European Commission (this year devoted to climate change), environment commissioner Stavros Dimas said that linking the sector into the EU’s emissions trading system (ETS) looks like the most promising way forward.

As kerosene taxation was dismissed by finance ministers last month this does not come as a surprise.

Emissions trading has a number of political advantages: it can be decided upon by qualified majority voting, instead of unanimity as in the case of fuel taxes, and it will probably be dealt with by the environmental departments of the Commission, Council of Ministers and Parliament, instead of the transport or taxation departments.

Also, the EU is very proud of the establishment of a working CO2 market, and is keen on raising its profile.

Last but not least, inclusion in the EU ETS is a first step towards inclusion of aviation into the successor scheme of the Kyoto Protocol.

The idea also gained a boost recently with the publication of a summary of a new study by Dutch consultancy CE Delft which concluded that inclusion of aviation in the ETS would not be bad for European airlines.

Luckily, the concept of emissions trading for aviation is also so new that the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) has not yet been able to agree on obstacles against its introduction!

Yet, for most environmental campaigners familiar with the topic, the announcement came as something of a disappointment.

The aviation industry is very aware of the fact that it is enjoying a tax holiday and numerous other forms of financial support.

The sheer threat of losing these privileges has been an important trigger to – cautiously – embrace emissions trading. For them, it is the least-worst option.

Why? Because emissions trading will probably only have a marginal impact on emissions from the sector itself, which is exactly the reason why environmental NGOs have been advocating the introduction of a package of measures.

There is a long and winding road ahead. First, it is important that this plan is not the latest in a long list of options to tackle aviation emissions that ends up permanently on hold, or ‘in the fridge’ as we say in Holland.

Second, a series of important decisions need to be taken on the exact conditions for the sector to join the ETS. These factors could have a decisive impact on the overall environmental effectiveness.

But most of all, it should be made clear that emissions trading is the beginning not the end of climate policy for the aviation sector.

This news story is taken from the June 2005 edition of T&E Bulletin.