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Europe must resist attacks on EU ETS

24th November, 2011

While the recent opinion of the Advocate General to the European Court of Justice signalled that the EU emissions trading system (EU ETS) is likely to emerge unscathed from the legal challenge brought by US and Canadian airlines, political pressure continues to mount. Earlier this month, the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) adopted a declaration, drafted and agreed in advance by a group of states including the US, China and India (but not Australia), expressing opposition to the inclusion of their carriers into the EU ETS.

While this Council position is not legally binding on the EU, it still represents a worrying departure from protocol, offering the European Council members no opportunity to table amendments before being put to the vote. At the same time, the US Congress has passed a Bill that would make it illegal for US airlines to comply with the EU legislation. Senate approval is still required before it goes to the US Administration, but whether or not this happens, it serves to highlight the political threats being made towards Europe just weeks before aviation’s entry into the EU ETS on 1st January 2012.

Several recent studies have confirmed that the cost on airlines of entering the EU ETS is unlikely to be a significant burden, and a clause that exempts certain routes if equivalent measures to tackle the sector’s climate impact are introduced by other countries will avoid any “double counting” of emissions. In fact, eight of the countries that voted in favour of the Council position have no airlines that will have to surrender permits under the EU ETS. The European NGO T&E have argued that in fact the USA is behind much of the apparently international opposition to the policy.

When analysed closely, these actions appear to be little more than attempts to prevent Europe from taking action on climate change. They would have more credibility if there was a practical alternative on the table, but the fact remains that Europe took steps to include aviation in its emissions trading system because there had been no international progress on developing a global measure and that is still the case today. Earlier this month over 7000 people signed a petition calling on Europe to stand firm on including aviation in the EU ETS.

On its own and in its current form, the Emissions Trading System cannot completely resolve the problem of aviation emissions growth. AEF has consistently called for a tougher cap, a higher level of permit auctioning, and for other policies alongside EU ETS to ensure that airlines covered by system do not simply rely on the availability of cheap permits for other sectors in meeting climate obligations. Yet the implementation of EU ETS for airlines would mark a real step forward in terms of tackling the problem of emissions that go beyond countries’ own borders. All sides of the debate aspire to a global solution, and repeatedly call for such a solution. But until a credible alternative has been presented and agreed, the EU is right to stand firm in its defence.