Battle over EU’s carbon cap for airlines heats up

Airline carbon emissions will be discussed at a meeting in Moscow next week.

NGO’s urge U.S. government not to cave to industry pressure

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — The political war over the European Union’s carbon cap-and-trade plan for airlines is set to continue next week in Moscow at an international trade conference.

U.S. airlines unhappy with the plan have been pressuring lawmakers and the Obama administration to reject the plan, even though its been found consistent with international law by the European Supreme Court.

Here’s what Airlines for America (formerly the Air Transport Association) had to say after the European Supreme Court ruling:

“Today’s court decision further isolates the EU from the rest of the world and will keep in place a unilateral scheme that is counterproductive to concerted global action on aviation and climate change. The court did not fully address legal issues raised and has established a damaging and questionable precedent by ruling that the European Union can ignore the Chicago Convention and other longstanding international provisions that have enabled governments around the world to work cooperatively to make flying safer and more secure, and to reduce aviation’s environmental footprint.” 
“Today’s decision does not mark the end of this case and Airlines for America (A4A) is reviewing options to pursue in the English High Court. At the same time, the U.S. government and dozens of others around the world are increasing pressure on the EU to come back to the table to consider a global sectoral approach. In the meantime, A4A members will comply under protest and will continue to operate safely and efficiently to Europe when the scheme takes effect Jan. 1.”

In advance of the meeting, top leaders of seven prominent non-governmental groups have sent a letter to the U.S. representatives at the meeting, Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern and Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economics Michael Froman.

 “We write to express our deep concern over the February 21-22, 2012, meeting in Moscow aimed at undermining the European Union’s emissions trading system for aviation. We propose that the administration encourage countries to comply with the (trading system) while they intensify their work in the International Civil Aviation Organization to achieve a global solution to limiting greenhouse gas emissions from aviation,” they said in the Feb. 17 letter.
The EU adopted the law after 14 fruitles years of negotiations. US carriers have resisted regulation in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and ICAO for almost 15 years.
“We urge the Obama administration to lead the world in building on the momentum that the EU ETS has created, the letter continues. “The US should work jointly with the EU to craft an effective global agreement in ICAO that will place the vast majority of aviation emissions under a strong cap, utilize high- integrity market-based measures to cut pollution cost-effectively, and direct revenues to provide climate finance to the world’s poorest nations.”
The letter was written as U.S. airlines step up efforts to mischaracterize and undermine the program by calling it a “tax” instead of what it really is — a market-based cap on pollution that lets them find the best and cheapest way to reduce emissions.
It’s the same tactic some in industry used to mischaracterize climate change legislation in the U.S. during the last Congress, and they’re doing it again to undermine Europe’s efforts.
The aviation sector today emits about as much climate pollution as all of the United Kingdom, and that amount is projected to quadruple by 2050.
  • The EU law puts a quantity limit, or cap, on the total amount of climate pollution of all flights landing at or taking off from EU airports. Every company whose planes land at or take off from airports in Europe has to ensure that at the end of each year, the amount of pollution of its planes is less than the amount of its cap. It’s that simple.
  • The EU could have slapped a tax on air travel in order to drive up the price and therefore reduce demand for air travel as a means of cutting down aviation pollution. But this law doesn’t do that.
  • The EU could have required the airlines to install particular pollution control technologies. But the law doesn’t do that either.
 Importantly, the EU law also gives airlines very broad flexibility to decide how to meet their caps.  Airlines have wide latitude to choose among many competing strategies, and the competition among the strategies to deliver the most cost-effective emissions reductions help drive down the costs of all of them.
To meet their caps, Airlines can make practical changes in their operations, such as:
  • Using gradual “continuous ascent” and “continuous descent”, which saves a lot of fuel, instead of today’s steep, fuel-guzzling climb-ups and climb-downs.
  • Using climate-friendlier fuels like sustainably produced biofuels.
  • Putting modern, high-efficiency engines on existing planes.
  • Adding “winglets” and other structural modifications to planes to improve flight efficiency.
  • Buying or leasing new, more fuel-efficient planes.
  • Purchasing pollution credits from a wide array of projects in different countries that reduce emissions outside the aviation sector, or purchasing emissions allowances from the EU.


5 thoughts on “Battle over EU’s carbon cap for airlines heats up

  1. Of course they will continue flying to Europe, as it’s a very big chunk of their income. That said, we are in the 21st century, need to get up to speed, leave what was O.K. for the 20th behind. Change, the essence of growth.
    Oh, cleaver, the use of the bicycle, in the type setting.

  2. “Hubristic, posturing” could somehow be added retrospectively right at the start of the above article’s headline. An urgent reality check is needed to offset the notion that the entire aviation industry is a collection of anti-environment ETS-refuseniks. They aren’t: there are already a significant amount of global airlines in full compliance with the EU Aviation ETS regulations.

    In fact, “significant” in this case means 100%, as every single airline that flies in and out of the EU has already registered under every aspect of the ETS with their respective regulator in each EU member state; they have met every deadline along the way; and many are active in carbon markets. They have effectively already surrendered.

    And here is a snapshot of how ticket prices are already being impacted:

    • Etihad Airways, Abu Dhabi’s carrier, has increased the fuel surcharge on all its flights to Europe to counter the costs of the
    EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme by USD$3 per passenger for flights into and out of Europe and 0.03 cents per kilogram for cargo shipments.

    • Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, United Continental and US Airways say they have already added a $3 surcharge each way
    on tickets for flights between the United States and Europe

    • ryanair introduced a €0.25 levy per passenger per flight from 17th January to cover its’ ETS costs

    • Air France/KLM, British Airways and Lufthansa have each added ETS costs to ticket prices via an increase in their existing fuel surcharge although the actual amount is a little opaque

    • and many other airlines, such as Thai Airways, have already been buying carbon permits, taking advantage of the current record low prices of around €7.9 per tonne of carbon.

    These are low, low pass through levels that will not bring about the collapse of air transport as we know it! Now call me naive but this is compliance, is it not? It is sad but true that all the countries meeting in Moscow later this week appear simply to want to bring about the complete collapse of the EU ETS, nothing more, nothing less.

    We know today that growth in global aviation fuel use and emissions through to 2050 unfortunately outpaces the very best that airframe/engine technology, improved ATM systems and smart operational techniques have to offer. And this includes the rather witless promotion of unsustainable biofuels as part of the industry’s PR-led attempt to manufacture consent for unlimited growth. They have nothing to offer but a high carbon future. This is not a destination we should all be hurtling towards at 39,000 feet and 500 miles per hour.

    The EU rightly continues to stand firm to protect the integrity of the aviation ETS which clearly should be developed as the global market-based element in a worldwide programme to control and reduce damaging climate change emissions from civil aviation.

    Jeffrey Gazzard
    Board Member
    Aviation Environment Federation

  3. Sorry – this is a tax, plain and simple. Nothing more, nothing less. Each of the alternate strategies has a cost which will be passed on to consumers, of course. Any benefit will be artificially manufactured through some sort of manipulation of statistics.

    The steep ascents and descents are in response to complaints by locals dumb enough to build houses next to airports. Gradual ascents & descents will never be allowed.

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