Aviation could be spared inclusion in the EU’s emissions trading scheme (ETS), the European Commission’s director-general for climate, Jos Delbeke, said yesterday (7 February) – but only if the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) agrees to a global emissions-reduction scheme.
His comments came a day after the Chinese government announced that it had instructed Chinese airlines not to participate in the ETS. Legislation is currently working its way through the United States Congress that would also ban US airlines from participating. If no solution is found, these airlines could be banned from flying to the EU from April 2013 – when airlines must submit allowances for the emissions they have emitted since 1 January 2012.
“Our legislators are ready to moderate the legislation based on the outcome of multilateral discussions at ICAO,” Delbeke told a conference on aviation emissions sponsored by green transport group T&E. “We have a window of 12 months to find a solution.”
Delbeke said he has seen action in the ICAO to come up with a global system accelerate in recent months as the EU indicated it would not back down from the 1 January deadline to start counting emissions. But the EU has been waiting for 15 years for the ICAO to develop such a global scheme.
Delbeke said the EU would only agree to suspend inclusion of aviation in the ETS if a new global ICAO scheme met three conditions: it must deliver more emissions reductions than the ETS on its own; it must have targets and measures; and any action must be non-discriminatory and apply to all airlines.
Delbeke stressed that the inclusion of aviation in the ETS is consistent with guidance adopted by ICAO in 2004, when the organisation said it would not develop a global scheme and countries should go ahead and include aviation in national cap-and-trade schemes. Since then, support for cap-and-trade has lost support globally, notably in the United States.
Speaking at the conference, Thomas White, deputy chief of the US Mission to the EU, said the US cannot accept a “tax” on its airlines, and that the inclusion of foreign airlines in the ETS amounts to a breach of sovereignty.
But Peter Liese, a centre-right German MEP who was the rapporteur for the ETS legislation, pointed out that the US was planning to include aviation in a cap-and-trade scheme of its own when the EU enacted its legislation in 2009. “The Waxman-Markey bill includes aviation,” he said. “Nobody in the Congress at that time asked China’s permission.”
The only thing that has changed since then is that the House of Representatives switched to Republican control, he said. “Nothing in the international situation has changed,” he added.
Annie Petsonk of the Environmental Defense Fund agreed that the American complaints are hypocritical. “When I fly from Brussels back to the US I have to take off my shoes,” she said. “That’s a US airspace requirement. It’s quite usual in this field for departing states and arriving states to set conditions.”
‘Coalition of the Unwilling’
On 21 February, the countries objecting to the inclusion of aviation in the ETS – the US, China, India and Russia – will meet to discuss their strategy in Moscow at a summit some in the EU are calling the “coalition of the unwilling”.
White said he believes the ETS issue is an unwelcome distraction at ICAO talks that is putting the US and the EU on opposite sides when they should both be pushing for a global emissions-reduction scheme. China and India are against a global ICAO scheme that would treat airlines from the developing world in the same way as airlines from the developed world. But critics have pointed out that the developing world often has newer planes and better technology.
“The existence of the EU ETS system has focused attention in a way that might not have happened otherwise,” he said. “But having the ETS hanging over the heads of ICAO member states is not the way to go. It’s been effective in getting people to the table, but I suspect it won’t be effective in keeping people at the table.”
White said the US supports global action to combat aviation emissions in the ICAO. He suggested the EU cancel its inclusion of aviation in the ETS at the start of ICAO talks on creating a global emissions-reduction scheme, as a sign of good faith.
But Delbeke said he could not go to member states and the European Parliament and convince them to abandon legislation that took three years to create simply because there is no sign that the ICAO is about to reach a deal.