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EU ‘stops the clock’ on airline emissions regulations

The world community once again will try to find a way to limit airline greenhouse gas emissions.

Hopes are high for a global agreement

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — In a move that was emblematic of this congressional session’s futility, the House Tuesday passed an unprecedented bill that would give the executive branch the power to ban airlines from complying with recognized international law — the only problem is, the law that it’s aimed at has already been temporarily suspended for a year.

At issue are European Union regulations regarding airline carbon emissions. The EU rules are aimed at reducing heat-trapping greenhouse gases, but have been put on hold for flights to and from the EU pending the outcome of talks aimed at developing a global plan for the airline industry, which, for the most part, has been kicking and screaming all the way to the table.

The EU rules added a few dollars to the cost of a transatlantic flight, hardly a financial burden, but U.S. airlines whined and lobbied Congress for relief rather than working proactively to address the problem. The EU announced its decision in this press conference (video), saying it wanted to contribute to “positive climate” surrounding the new international talks.

Aviation is already the world’s seventh largest polluter, and if emissions from the industry are left unregulated, they’re expected to quadruple by 2050.

Now, the International Civil Aviation Organization set in motion a high-level political process aimed at agreeing, by October 2013, on a global program for cutting aviation carbon pollution. Following ICAO’s announcement, the EU this paused its own carbon pollution law.

“Now that ICAO has moved into high gear its effort to get a global system for limiting aviation’s carbon pollution, and the EU has stopped its clock pending the ICAO outcome, at best this bill is simply superfluous,” said Annie Petsonk, international counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund. “At worst, it undermines the respect that nations need to have for each other’s laws in a globalizing world.”

In a memo, the EU said the stop-clocking move would help create space for the political negotiations and demonstrates confidence on the side of the EU that together with international partners we will succeed in ICAO to agree on meaningful international action. This means the ICAO process is allowed time until the 2013 Assembly in September/October next year and that no compliance will be expected as regards air traffic outside the EU in the interim.

“President Obama signaled in his reelection acceptance speech that there is an opportunity for revitalized executive branch leadership on the challenge of climate change. The aviation question, one of the first climate issues after the elections, puts the spotlight on the White House, which will need to put significant political muscle into helping ICAO reach agreement on a worldwide approach to address aircraft emissions,” said Petsonk. “The airlines who lobbied so hard for enactment of this bill should join with environmentalists in agreeing on that global approach.”

A coalition of green NGOs thinks the EU concession is bigger than necessary, because it is more than commensurate with the limited progress made in last Friday’s ICAO Council meeting towards a global market-based mechanism (MBM) to address greenhouse gas emissions from international aviation. The environmental groups say no excuse is left for ICAO to come up with a concrete and global measure at its triennial assembly in September-October 2013.

“Opponents of the inclusion of international flights in the EU ETS have always said that a global solution under ICAO is the way to go. Now it is time for them to stop blaming the EU for blocking a world-wide approach and put their money where their mouth is”, says Bill Hemmings, T&E program manager for international transport.

The EU has stopped its clock, but the clock for ICAO and the climate is still ticking. The Commission, with today’s decision, has moved further than necessary given the little progress made so far at ICAO level. There is no excuse for inaction left”, Hemmings added.

“Obama has finally the chance to prove that he means what he said on climate change in his victory speech. The US ambassador said the US could not talk with ‘the threat of the ETS hanging over everybody’s head’; if today’s move still does not clear the sky, we don’t know what would”, Hemmings concluded.

Tim Johnson, director of Aviation Environment Federation (AEF) said “The Commission’s plan still has to be agreed by member states and the European Parliament. Given the huge majority of MEPs that voted in favour of the legislation, we would expect the Parliament to confirm the importance of ICAO delivering a global MBM over the next 12 months”.

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