MEPs express doubts over global aviation CO2 scheme while reforming ETS

The rising scepticism about a global measure to partially offset aviation emissions was underscored this month with MEPs demanding a review in 2019 of the UN’s voluntary scheme, known as CORSIA. The European Parliament environment committee’s call for the review highlights Europe’s need to maintain an environmentally meaningful and strengthened regional measure, T&E said. The committee also voted to strengthen the EU emissions trading system’s (ETS) provisions on aviation.

The global market-based measure adopted last year by UN aviation agency ICAO relies exclusively on offsetting in its attempt at ‘carbon neutral growth’ for aviation from 2020. MEPs want the European Commission to thoroughly assess the scheme, particularly the level of participation, the quality of carbon offsets, the transparency of the scheme, and safeguards against the use of unsustainable aviation biofuels. The review would be carried out within six months of the next ICAO assembly in 2019.

Should CORSIA not stand up to scrutiny, it may trigger a return to ETS coverage of all flights arriving in or departing from a European airport. Currently, flights originating or terminating outside Europe are exempt from the ETS. MEPs endorsed the Commission’s proposal to extend this exemption. However, they voted to limit this exemption until the end of 2020, at which time a further review by the Commission will be needed.

T&E’s aviation manager, Andrew Murphy, said: ‘With a continuing lack of detail on how the UN aviation scheme will operate, and serious doubts about the effectiveness of offsetting, MEPs’ scepticism is well justified. Their vote today means that, whether by global or regional action, aviation must make a fair contribution to global climate efforts.’

The ETS reforms favoured by MEPs include a 2.2% annual reduction in the cap on aviation emissions, which is the linear reduction factor proposed by the European Commission. Until now the cap was static, meaning no obligation for emissions to be reduced. So this annual reduction puts the sector on a long-term path to decarbonisation. MEPs also called for an increase in the amount of aviation emissions allowances in circulation to be auctioned from 15% to at least 50%. T&E said this would reduce aviation’s unfair advantage over other modes of transport such as road and rail.

Murphy concluded: ‘For too long aviation has evaded effective climate measures, so it’s no surprise that the sector’s share of European emissions tripled between 1990 and 2015. The environment committee’s decision to cut the cap is the strongest measure to date to put the sector on a path to decarbonisation. But it needs to be backed up with further resolute measures such as stopping state aid to the sector as well as airlines’ tax breaks on fuel duty and VAT.’

The committee also focused on the climate impact of greenhouse gases other than CO2. It charged the Commission with further assessing the role played by non-CO2 emissions such as NOx, black carbon and contrails from aircraft. The latest research suggests these can equal or exceed the impact of CO2. The Commission would be required to bring forward a proposal by 2020 to address the issue.

The committee's report is set to be voted on by the parliament's plenary in September, which would put the parliament, national governments and the European Commission on track to agree a compromise by the end of the year.