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Airline attack on EU emissions trading system meets powerful opposition

5th July, 2011

The European Union, backed by six of its member states, Norway and an international coalition of environmental organisations robustly defended the law integrating aviation into the EU emissions trading system (EU-ETS) at a hearing today at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

EU countries including France, Spain, Sweden, Poland, and Denmark, and led by the United Kingdom strongly rejected the airline’s contention that aviation emissions can only be addressed by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and that the system amounts to a unilateral tax.

Lawyers for the UK compared the system to existing EU rules on the working hours of lorry drivers  crossing into the EU from foreign countries which require the time already driven outside EU borders to be counted.  It was also pointed out that most legislation affecting international transport has indirect effects beyond the borders of the legislator.   The lawyer for the European Parliament noted that EU rules accelerating the phasing in of a double-hull requirement for oil tankers docking at EU ports are similar to the aviation ETS in only requiring compliance when arriving or departing the EU.

The environmental organisations pointed out that the ETS fully respects other nations’ sovereignty as it neither mandates nor prohibits actions outside of European boundaries, but merely requires airlines to comply with the system when taking off or landing at an EU airport.

Bill Hemmings of Transport & Environment said:

“The American airlines have a long history of actively seeking to disrupt any and all measures to cut climate changing emissions.  This legal case is another cynical attempt to derail a modest and cost effective climate initiative that would add little more than EUR 6 to the price of a transatlantic flight.  Environmental organisations strongly support the EU-ETS which is a welcome first step towards dealing with aviation’s growing climate impact.”

Pamela Campos of the Environmental  Defense Fund, added: “Today we heard powerful support from a wide range of governments and NGOs in favor of the legality of the ETS.  This is a moderate system that spurs innovation.  The broad consensus presented to the court today shows that it’s time to stop arguing and start doing the real work of reducing the airlines’ warming pollution.”

The advocate general will deliver her opinion on the case on 6 October, which will be followed by a final judgement of the court at a later date.

The environmental organisations intervening in the case are the Aviation Environment Federation, EarthJustice (on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity), Environmental Defense Fund, Transport & Environment and WWF UK.  They were represented in Court by Jon Turner QC and Laura Elizabeth John, instructed by Harrison Grant.