EU aviation emissions proposals attacked from all sides

With no further efforts, aviation emissions are expected to increase by 300% by 2050.

An amended Commission proposal to force airlines to pay a carbon charge on flights within the European Economic Area was slammed by both left- and right-wing MEPs in the Parliament's transport committee yesterday (15 November).

“We look ridiculous”, Conservative MEP Jacqueline Foster said of the new emission trading system (ETS) proposals, which are due to come into effect on 1 January.

"The scheme was never going to save CO2 [emissions]," she said. "The majority in ICAO voted against, and you didn't like what the majority said. You don't like mutual consent".

Last month, the EU executive reduced the scope of its proposed ETS rules to exclude emissions over international air space, following talks at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in Montreal.

The Commission also granted developing countries exemptions from the scheme, if they emit less than 1% of global aviation emissions. This, however, could apply to as many as 166 of ICAO's 192 nations. 

The final ICAO text was thrashed out in tough debates, amid strong opposition from the US, Russia and China to the EU's ETS rules. But MEPs lined up to criticise it for weakness and inefficiency.

For Conservatives, the Commission was guilty of disrespecting concepts of mutual consent and multilateralism. This position is supported by the aviation industry.

At a debate in the European Parliament on 13 November, Karl Heinz Haag, Lufthansa's head of environmental affairs said the proposals did not take into account for "the potential international conflicts” it could create.

He called for a 'global approach' from the EU, including an agreement with third countries. But for the European Commission it is a question of sovereignty.


Elina Bardram, head of the EU's international carbon market unit, said that EU laws were not made on the basis of third countries opposition.  These, she said, “have to abide by the local rules”, a position shared by the civil sector.

Bill Hemmings, aviation programme manager at the green NGO Transport & Environment, said: “If you want to enter Europe’s house then please take off your shoes and abide by Europe’s rules. Foreign airlines operating in Europe must be bound by this principle just like anyone else. Or is aviation asking to be exempt from European law? The Commission has proposed the absolute minimum that Europe can do and still retain control over their sovereignty."

Even with much reduced geographical coverage, Europe could still achieve the same CO2 cuts by reducing the amount of carbon permits available, he added.

The head of the Parliament's transport committee, Brian Simpson (S&D), said that he regretted not having asked for the ETS to be considered a joint competence with the environment committee, which is considered less conservative. But Simpson said that if a Commission proposal was on the table now, it was because "this is what the European Parliament voted for by a majority at that time”.

“Since 2005, the political priority has gone from saving the planet to saving your job”, he continued.

The current situation was “a mess”, he said, with a majority of member states not having taken up a position, and the Commission  having "no plan B”.

Kerosene tax?

The plan B issue was also raised by Green MEP Michael Cramer as was the absence of a 'threat' that could have been used as leverage in the ETS negotiations.

Cramer pointed out that in Germany airlines had accepted the ETS only to avoid having to pay a kerosene tax, which would have been more expensive. Proposing such an alternative could have pressured third countries into the talks, he argued.

“A Kerosene tax of course is a threat to airlines, and I didn’t even mention the VAT. That could be a pressure and I would like to see how China and Russia would react to that," he said.

Cramer conceded that the Commission had no plan B and said that aviation tax revenue collection was “not in the competence of the Commission”.

>> Read:  Study: Aviation tax breaks cost EU states €39 billion a year

In a briefing published in July, Transport & Environment calculated that European governments were losing almost €40 billion a year due to the lack of “basic taxation” in aviation.

In an effort to tackle aviation's fast-growing contribution to climate change, the European Commission issued a legislative proposal in December 2006 to bring it into the EU's Emission Trading System (ETS).

This involved imposing a cap on carbon dioxide emissions for all planes arriving or departing from EU airports, while allowing airlines to buy and sell 'pollution credits' on the bloc's carbon market, and so reward low carbon-emitting aviation.

The legislation took effect on 1 January 2012. But non-EU governments and airlines have threatened legal action or trade retaliation unless they are granted exemptions. China's official aviation body, the China Air Transport Association (CATA), says that the ETS would cost its airlines $123 million in the scheme's first year, and more than triple that by 2020. The country also claims special dispensation as a developing country.

EU officials say that China has a higher GDP than Greece or Portugal and question why its businessmen should be exempted from paying the same carbon taxes that others do.

The EU also allows ETS exemptions for governments that take equivalent measures to curb aviation emissions. But Brussels has not said what these might be. China's aviation regulator has already asked all airline carriers to cut their energy and carbon intensity by 22% by 2050.

  • 17 December 2013: Deadline for the draft opinion of the Transport Committee of the EP
  • 18 December 2013: deadline for amendments
  • January 2014: Vote in the Transport Committee on the opinion

European Commission

European Parliament


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