Leading MEPs have asked the European Commission and Council not to seek changes to the UN’s global aviation scheme, which is aimed at making the industry carbon neutral. Airlines have requested more leeway to ride out the coronavirus outbreak slump.
Under the UN’s CORSIA instrument, global aviation emissions should be capped at current levels and any growth in the coming years offset by payments into green projects, like renewable energy or reforestation.
According to the rules, 2019-2020 should be used as the offset baseline. Given the fall-off in air travel and aircraft emissions due to the virus, airlines insist 2020’s numbers will drag down the benchmark and potentially increase the future costs of neutralising their pollution levels.
The Commission has sided with the airlines and proposed tweaking the rules so that only 2019 is taken as the baseline. A decision by the Council on whether to adopt it as the EU’s position, originally due this week, will be made on 3 June.
Senior MEPs from across the European Parliament’s political spectrum wrote to Commission and Council leaders on Wednesday (27 May), urging them to hold off making changes and to instead wait for a scheduled CORSIA review in 2022.
Renew Europe’s Pascal Canfin, who chairs the environment committee, and Nils Torvalds, EPP lawmaker Peter Liese, the Greens’ Bas Eickhout and the S&D’s Jytte Guteland wrote in the joint letter that they “are deeply concerned” about the effect the change could have.
The MEPs warned that “CORSIA is already extremely far from being in line with the Paris Agreement and climate neutrality objective”, adding that recent research shows that changes now would “seriously undermine the environmental integrity of the scheme”.
According to the Commission’s proposal, the 2022 stocktake could be an opportunity to shore up the baseline again, which the letter denounces as a “naïve strategy”. The MEPs insist that waiting would allow for more clarity about the economic impact of the virus.
The International Commercial Aviation Organisation (ICAO), a UN body, is set to start its annual general assembly on 8 June in Montreal, so the EU will have to agree on its position next week.
MEPs are not the only stakeholders to voice concern. Environmental groups including EDF and Carbon Market Watch told ICAO that “changing the rules and thereby eliminating three to five years of offset obligations would damage the credibility and long-term stability of CORSIA”.
Own the resources
Aviation is set to help the EU pay off the €750 billion that the Commission wants to borrow from the capital markets to fuel a post-virus recovery.
According to the EU executive’s proposal released on Wednesday, the bloc’s carbon market could be extended to include maritime and aviation, with additional profits from selling pollution permits contributing to the repayment effort.
Proceeds from a planned carbon border adjustment mechanism, a digital tax and a levy on plastic are also among the options presented by the Commission.
Yesterday, EURACTIV asked the Commission’s Executive Vice-President Frans Timmermans whether a tax on jet fuel – currently exempted by a decades-old international agreement – is also under consideration as a so-called ‘own-resource’.
According to the Commission’s number-crunching, ETS-extension could net an extra €10bn for the EU coffers, while the carbon border tax could bring in up to €14bn. A recent study suggested a kerosene levy might generate €27bn.
The climate chief replied that “looking into the possibility of taxing kerosene is certainly on our agenda. It is something I’ve been talking about for a number of years and it defies comprehension that all other fuel types are taxed and kerosene isn’t.”
“There are several difficulties when looking at this: the international situation, the IATA position, so it’s not exactly easy-going but I think we should continue to explore that,” Timmermans added.
“What would be done with the revenues from such a tax is another matter and an open matter. We have not taken any decisions either way but it is something that could be looked at at a later stage,” the Dutchman concluded.
Deploying a jet fuel tax faces a number of challenges, since all decisions that impose or amend existing rules on harmonised EU taxes have to made via unanimity.
The Commission has recently suggested that the Council should move towards qualified majority voting (QMV) in certain areas such as environmental legislation, while advocacy groups have called on willing countries to set up bilateral tax deals.
Economy chief Paolo Gentiloni reiterated those calls yesterday, telling reporters that “we should be all aware, if this recovery fund is such an important new tool for our common policy, that it is also a sort of wakeup call for us on the issue of own-resources and taxation.”
[Edited by Benjamin Fox]