EU concedes on global aviation emissions reduction

The EU has proposed a compromise on applying its Emissions Trading System to all international flights involving EU airports. The compromise has been offered in the hope that the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) will take more ambitious action to decide to develop and implement a global market-based measure to reduce emissions from international aviation. Environmental organisations criticised the move as conceding too much in return for no guarantee of a meaningful outcome at ICAO’s triennial assembly, which runs until 4 October.

EU efforts to reduce carbon emissions from aircraft led to aviation being included in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) from the start of last year. But the rules mean that emissions from the whole of any flights that start or end at an EU airport have to be accounted for, and paid for with emissions permits. This has angered governments from around the world, who first tried to have the measure declared illegal, and, when that failed, threatened economic reprisals. In an attempt to encourage a solution at this month’s ICAO general assembly, the EU last year declared a year’s freeze on the introduction of emissions trading on flights involving non-EU airports, a measure that became known as ‘stopping the clock’.

With differences still running deep in the run-up to the ICAO assembly, EU states, acting on advice from the Commission, proposed a compromise that only the part of international flights that takes place in EU ‘regional airspace’ would be subject to carbon permits. In return, the EU expects ICAO to agree on a more ambitious global aviation emissions deal at this 2013 assembly, to come into effect in 2020. This compromise will be put to the ICAO assembly.

T&E aviation manager Bill Hemmings said: ‘This concession is little more than a face-saving gesture to make peace with foreign governments and industry, but completely fails to protect the environment. It is appeasement on a grand scale, because it leaves no guarantee of any meaningful global emissions deal that will be effective in reducing emissions.’

The proposed compromise is aimed at finding agreement with the US government, and EU officials have talked behind the scenes about a more helpful attitude from American officials. But there is no guarantee that countries like India, China and Brazil will support even this reduced level of regulation, making it harder to reach a global agreement. In addition, the compromise could open up another problem – Europe’s low-fares airlines have said they will reactivate legal action complaining that an EU-only scheme would create competitive advantages for airlines which do most of their business outside Europe.

The European Parliament’s rapporteur on this issue, MEP Peter Liese, said it was a ‘far from ideal solution’ that MEPs would have to scrutinise. ‘Personally,’ he added, ‘I would not be ready to give another blank cheque to ICAO and say if they don’t agree in 2016 we just look at it then.’