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.