EU fails to curb aviation emissions

Clouds as carbon footprint. [Cubrazol/Shutterstock]

MEPs voted in favor of a watered down deal on aviation emissions on 3 April, after the EU Commission backed down from its own proposal a day before.

With 458 votes in favour, on 3 April, MEPs backed a highly criticised deal reached last month with member states on the introduction of an emissions trading scheme (ETS) for the aviation sector, which is considered to be responsible of around 4% of the global CO2 emissions, according to environmentalist groups.

The environment committee (ENVI) of the European Parliament last week rejected the agreement reached with the Council in an attempt to “defend European sovereignty” against the “bullying” from third countries, especially China,  which conditioned the purchase of Airbus airliners if Europe backed down on its aviation emissions policy.

The rejection of the deal on 10 March led MEP Pieter Liese, who was steering the legislation through Parliament, to ask for a vote in plenary session, where more industry-friendly MEPs were likely to reverse ENVI’s vote.

In addition, Commissioner Connie Hedegaard, in charge of climate, gave up on her own legislative proposal under pressure from member states asking European lawmakers to support the deal struck in Council.

“Without doubt the Commission would of course have preferred and fought for a higher level of ambition, it would've been better for Europe's self-respect and reputation, and even more important, for the climate. But we are where we are," Reuters reported Hedegaard saying at a debate on 2 April  in the EU Parliament.

Sources in Parliament were expecting a much stronger fight during the vote, but the Commission’s call might have a lot to do with the overwhelming majority of MEPs backing the deal.

Anger among environmentalists

Green and other environment-friendly MEPs from other groups, as well as green campaigners, were angry at the results.

British Liberal MEP, Chris Davies, tweeted that the Parliament was “bowing to Chinese pressure.” “Shameful”, he added.

Transport and Environment, the green NGO, who has been strongly lobbying Parliament ahead of the vote, said that MEPs had “capitulated to pressure; bullying and threats” from third countries.”

The group of the Greens/European Free Alliance did not hide its anger either, blaming directly Airbus and the European airlines for “undermining EU climate policy”.

The vote comes four days after the UN’s intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC) warned that the worst is yet to come for the planet and foresaw grave potential risks of humanitarian crises linked to extreme weather events.

>> Read also: IPCC report: Climate change a threat to security, food and humankind

The members of the European Parliament however managed to get a few provisions in favour of climate change in the agreement with the member states. Although these provisions are not binding, EU states will be asked how they spend the revenues from ETS allowance auctions: “Those revenues should be used to tackle climate change and fund research, inter alia for low-emissions transport, in particular in aeronautics,” the final press communique reads.

The rapporteur on the issue, Pieter Liese, stressed that the text is “better that the Council position and the Commission proposal” because the ETS for aviation will apply fully after 2016, while member states wanted to stop the auction allowances until 2020.

MEPs pushed for 2016 in order to put pressure on the UN civil aviation body, ICAO, whose next assembly is scheduled for 2016, to come up with a global solution to reduce  CO2 emissions from aviation.


Satu Hassi, Greens/European Free Alliance MEP said: "MEPs have today voted to let most of the aviation sector off the hook for its growing climate change impact in exchange for the vague hope of future global action. Excluding international aviation from the emissions trading scheme for 4 extra years will mean 4 more years of growth in airline emissions, undermining the emissions reductions from most other EU sectors. The original legislation including aviation in the EU's emissions trading scheme covers one-third of global aviation emissions; it is reckless to dismantle this effective climate policy instrument in exchange for a vague promise on a global scheme in the distant future without guarantees of environmental integrity or ambition. The actions of Airbus and the European airlines to undermine EU climate policy have been shameless and discredit the sector as a constructive partner for the future.”

The European Low Fare Airlines Association expressed its disappointment:

“The casualties of this political compromise are:

  • the environment (less than 20% of EU aviation emissions being captured by intra-EU scope)
  •  intra-European operators and


  • European consumers who alone bear the cost penalty of this highly discriminatory outcome, with no meaningful environmental gain.


 ELFAA now calls on the Council to re-think their position on the draft trialogue agreement to further extend the discriminatory ‘Stop The Clock’ until 2016, failing which, ELFAA will have no option but to reactivate its currently stayed legal challenge against such discrimination.

Athar Husain Khan, CEO of the Association of European Airlines said: “Although AEA welcomes that the EP has taken a realistic approach which provides clarity for airlines for the next three years, we would have preferred legal certainty and planning stability until 2020 when the global market-based mechanism is due to come into force. The new scope puts an additional burden on airlines primarily serving intra-European routes but by amending the aviation ETS, the EP has paved the way for further progress at international level.  AEA fully supports the ICAO process as it is the only way to ensure a global solution for a global problem.”

Jason Anderson, Head of European Climate and Energy Policy at WWF European Policy Office said:

 “A continuation of ‘Stop the Clock’ in order to achieve a global agreement in the International Civil Aviation Organization  is making the environment pay the price as aviation emissions coverage in the EU ETS will now be reduced by 75%. The EU has compromised too much in pursuit of this aim, with no guarantee of success.

 What we need to see now is the BRICS, US and other countries to take a more constructive role within ICAO to ensure the adoption of a market based measure for aviation, ideally one that generates revenue to help developing countries take climate action. We also need to see the airline industry continuing to stand firm in their support of global and regional measures to reduce aviation emissions. Only then will the EU’s sacrifice not have been in vain.”


Bill Hemmings, aviation manager at Transport & Environment, said: “Just when the IPCC’s latest report shows how climate change is already affecting every aspect of human life, European governments and politicians have chosen to effectively scrap the only law in the world that attempts to curb aviation’s soaring emissions. Regulating emissions in European airspace is not only our right, but also our obligation - something those who cried wolf about a ‘trade war’ seem to have forgotten.”

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