Social democrats could overturn vote to dismantle aviation emissions trading

MEPs from the socialist S&D group are still deciding on next week’s vote to only regulate CO2 emissions of intra-European flights which, T&E argues, effectively dismantles the aviation emissions trading system (ETS). The Parliament’s environment committee will consider the trilogue deal, which reflects EU governments’ giving in to pressure from third countries, the aviation industry and Airbus.

The trilogue outcome is a rejection of the Commission’s original proposal to regulate emissions in EU airspace and overturns the Parliament’s overwhelming vote of support for airspace. Council members, led by the Airbus countries UK, France and Germany, took the line that stepping back from upholding the EU’s sovereign right to regulate in its airspace was preferable to upsetting third countries like Russia, China, the US and India.
 
By excluding long-haul flights from the ETS, which account for the bulk of European emissions, the system’s environmental effectiveness (CO2 emissions regulated) would be cut by three quarters. After consideration again by the environment committee on March 19, the trilogue deal, if approved, will be finally decided at a Parliament plenary meeting in early April.
 
Environment committee chairman Matthias Groote (S&D) this week tweeted that there was ‘still no majority’ in favour of the trilogue compromise. With uncertainty over how his socialist colleagues will vote, the bloc’s actions will prove decisive. The liberals (ALDE) and Greens have already said they will reject the deal, according to the European Voice, while the ECR group may also vote against, as they want the expiration date to remain 2020.
 
If the Parliament does not sign off on a deal by April, the previous legislation – covering emissions on all flights to and from Europe – would, at least in theory, automatically snap back into force. If the committee rejects the trilogue agreement then one scenario would see the issue returning for renegotiation between the Council and Parliament. This would be an interesting test of post-Lisbon Treaty policymaking.
 
Under the trilogue deal, CO2 emissions regulated would shrink by a third compared to the Commission proposal – supported by the environment committee – which would have capped emissions on all flights within EU airspace which arrive or depart an European airport and thus capture at least a part of emissions from flights to and from third countries.
 
The one-year suspension on including all flights to and from Europe, known as ‘stop the clock’, would, under the trilogue proposal, be extended until 2016. This ‘interim’ solution was agreed in April 2013 to give ICAO, the United Nations aviation body, time to agree a global scheme to tackle aviation’s climate impact. But last October ICAO agreed to only ‘develop’ a measure by 2016 which, if agreed then, would start by 2020 at the earliest.
 
Bill Hemmings, aviation manager at T&E, was critical of the trilogue outcome. ‘European governments have conceded yet again to international pressure without getting anything meaningful in return, let alone guarantees that soaring international aviation emissions will one day be tackled,’ he said.
 
‘Shrinking the aviation ETS to cover intra-EU flights only effectively amounts to the dismantling of a European climate law. We urge MEPs to stand firm for Europe’s principles and sovereign rights and reject this deal. This is a test of the Parliament’s decision-making role and of Europe’s willingness to exercise its right to control carbon pollution within its own borders.’ 
 
Aviation is the most carbon-intensive transport mode, responsible for about 5% of historic global warming. 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.