Negotiations to agree on a global deal to reduce flight emissions are advancing as countries initially blocking the talks seem ready to cooperate, the European Commission said on Tuesday (2 December).
Speaking at an event on the future of aviation, an EU official called it “a positive sign” that the US and China, among others, are ready to work towards having a global climate system.
But Jos Dings from Transport and Environment, a climate campaigner that hosted the event, remained sceptical of the negotiations’ outcome.
“The legal structure of how it will work in practice is far from settled,” said Dings.
“One option could be a treaty that would require ratification of all member states. A very lengthy process,” he explained. “Option two implies the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) setting up a standard but countries could then opt out, potentially undermining the whole global scheme.”
The airlines industry would not be against the adoption of a standard, but there are not “enough efficient infrastructures or alternative fuels to reduce emissions”, said Athar Husain Khan, Director of the Association of European Airlines.
The talks are taking place in the framework of ICAO, a de-facto global aviation regulator in charge of setting emission targets.
Both the Commission and the member states are pressing ICAO to put in place “a robust scheme with solid and transparent monitoring, reporting, and verification system”, said the EU official.
Asked if the EU has a fall-back option in case ICAO negotiations fail, the legislator said it won’t speculate, but the emissions trading system (ETS) as a whole “will continue to exist”.
“The ETS will play a central role to deliver the European objective,” said the Commission.
In the absence of an ICAO agreement by 2016, ETS will continue to apply to intra-EU flights. And it will also cover emissions from long-haul flights, which are exempted currently for another year.
But Sabine Hornig from the International Air Transport Association said that the “EU having a superior system that no one follows shouldn’t be the goal either”.
“We need a deal in ICAO, but it has to be properly developed and researched in order to achieve those goals,” said Athar Husain Khan. “We have to remove some of the impediments, and that includes our continued focus on EU ETS.”
Dings, however, sees a fall-back option as a good alternative to keep up the momentum.
“The desire of the world to get rid of EU ETS is stronger than the desire of the world to create a global emissions scheme,” he said.
“We believe the EU should be entitled to regulate its own emissions and half of emissions between EU and other destinations (50/50).”
By the end of 2017, the European Commission will publish a report on the outcome of the international negotiations. Depending on the assessment, the report could propose new measures if necessary.
“The final outcome will be as good as political acceptance allows,” a spokesperson explained.
The EU Emissions Trading System (ETS), which already applied to more than 10,000 energy and industrial plants, was extended on 1 January 2012 to aviation. Emissions from most other sectors have fallen, but those from airlines have doubled since 1990 and could triple by 2020, European Commission figures show.
The ETS allows for "equivalent measures" to offset carbon emissions that could exempt international airlines from joining the ETS. Airlines would initially be required to pay for only 15% of the carbon they emit and would be allocated free allowances to cover the other 85%.
From 2013 to 2020, airlines are expected to buy around 700 million permits, according to Thomson Reuters Point Carbon data. The initial cost is expected to be minimal but would rise to an estimated €9 billion by the end of 2020.