|February 13, 2012
Tension in the Air
The controversy over the European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme (EU-ETS) aviation rule continued to escalate last week. The rule came into effect on January 1, 2012, and requires all airlines to account for greenhouse gas emissions flying to and from the EU regardless of point of origin. In the US, Congress took action against the E.U. policy in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) bill, which passed the House and Senate in early February not on the same day. The bill includes important but non-binding opposition to the EU-ETS rule. Although the provision is less inflammatory than House and Senate bills, banning US airlines from complying with the EU-ETS rule, it sends a signal to Brussels of the United States’ continued opposition to the rule. President Obama has until Friday to sign the bill.
News of opposition to the EU-ETS aviation rule continued abroad as conflicting reports indicated that China may have passed a law barring its airlines from complying with the EU-ETS rule. This aggressive move by China occurred just ahead of a February 14 Beijing summit, at which the EU will seek China’s assistance to ease its debt crisis. According to media reports, on February 21 a group of 26 countries (including the US, Russia, India and China) will meet in Moscow to discuss its next plan of action over the EU’s rule on aviation. This group of countries formed an unlikely “coalition of the unwilling,” and adopted the ‘Delhi Declaration’ last September that opposes the EU-ETS move on aviation, terming it, “inconsistent with the international legal regimes.” The intentions of the coalition of the unwilling have been at best perplexing, particularly since it has been reported that the airline carriers of almost half the countries in this coalition will not be affected by the new rules.
Further, it is now widely known that the airline industry is one of the fastest growing emitters of GHGs. If no action is taken to curb this trend and current growth rates in the industry are allowed to continue, aviation emissions are expected to increase 150 percent by 2030 (going by 2006 atmospheric CO2 levels). Globally, the airline industry is solely responsible for approximately 3 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions each year, with US airlines being the biggest emitters.
Meanwhile, bilateral negotiations between the EU and some countries have begun. Last week, after bilateral talks, India Times reported that India and the EU stuck to their respective stands on the aviation rule, but decided “to resolve their differences urgently.” Despite escalating opposition and indications from some that this could lead to a trade war, the EU has vowed to stand firm. Connie Hedegaard, the EU Commissioner for Climate Action, was quoted via twitter as saying “Dear press, calm down. One misquote does not change the fact: the EU will not suspend its legislation which includes aviation into the ETS.”
United States airline companies are “complying under protest” according to a vice president of communications at Airlines for America (A4A). Earlier this year, Delta Airlines became the first US airline to impose a $3 charge on tickets to and from EU airports. Other US airlines that operate flights to the EU have followed suit. No payment to the EU-ETS scheme is due until 2013; thus, there is an opportunity between now and then for countries to show a willingness to negotiate a global binding agreement on emissions from the aviation sector. Just this past weekend, Reuters reported that global airlines had called for a “UN brokered deal to prevent a row over aviation emissions between China and the European Union spilling into a damaging trade war.” Signs that the EU is willing to show some flexibility have emerged. According to the New York Times, during a conference in Brussels, an EU official indicated that the EU could suspend parts of the new law if countries were to make clear progress this year toward establishing a global emissions control system. However, in an editorial on aviation, the Financial Times zeroed in by saying “ ….any deal should be no less ambitious than the EU’s proposal. A watered-down agreement would be unwelcome.”
On the domestic front, legislators continued to use transportation bills to include other unscrupulous provisions. Reports last week indicate that there may be an effort to attach a provision to expedite the Keystone XL pipeline to the Senate’s bipartisan highway funding bill, which is a two-year, $109 billion plan to upgrade roads, bridges and transit systems. The Keystone provision would allow work to begin immediately on all but the most sensitive portions of the Canada-to-Texas project. Legislators are expected to file their amendment as soon as today, prompting environmental groups to cry foul at the move in a letter. For the next 24 hours, 350.org and a coalition of more than 35 organizations are uniting to blitz the Senate with messages from across the country demanding that they reject Keystone XL. For more information, see the action alert below.
Susan Tambi Matambo, International Policy Coordinator