MEP seeks to strengthen draft EU aviation emissions law


Environmental groups have welcomed proposals by the European Parliament's environment committee rapporteur, Peter Liese, who wants to tighten an EU directive incorporating aviation within the bloc's Emissions Trading System (ETS), despite rumbles of dissent from low-fare airlines.

The dispute between the EU and third countries over making airlines pay for their carbon emissions is far from being resolved.

But the German liberal MEP Peter Liese, who is steering the draft directive through Parliament, is backing the European Commission's compromise proposal, while proposing amendments aimed at further strenghtening it.

These were welcomed by green campaign group Transport and Environment (T&E).

“MEP Liese's report puts a minimum of environmental effectiveness back into an unambitious Commission proposal,” Aoife O’Leary, the aviation campaigner at T&E told EURACTIV.

Reintroducing full ETS from 2017

While the current EU proposal compromised “between two extremes”, Liese said, parts of it were weak. He is advising the EU to shorten a deadline for revising its relevant legislation from 2020 to 2016 to put more pressure on the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to reach a global deal sooner rather than later.

Until last year, the EU had insisted that all international airlines transiting EU airspace pay a small carbon charge for their emissions. But under pressure from the US, which authorised its airlines to disobey the scheme – and countries such as China and India which actively flouted it – the EU 'stopped the clock' on the proposal to give the ICAO more time to reach a global deal.

The UN’s civil aviation body agreed in October to develop a global market-based mechanism (MBM) to reduce emissions, at its next general assembly in 2016. That mechanism could take effect in 2020.

But European trust in the talks' outcome is waning. The assembly was tasked with devising such a scheme under the Kyoto Protocol but never did so. Promises it made on aviation emissions in 2001 were also not delivered, Liese regretted.

He said: “Unfortunately, the resolution includes a lot of conditions and preconditions. Therefore, it is not at all sure that the ICAO Assembly in 2016 will really succeed to adopt clear rules for the MBM.”

By reducing the timeframe in his draft proposal, the rapporteur is effectively threatening the ICAO that the EU will revert to a full ETS from 2017 if global agreement is not reached.

Environmental organisations reacted warmly. “The Commission will have to come forward with a new and more sustainable proposal. There are no excuses to give ICAO more time,” T&E's O’Leary commented.

Equal treatment, really?

Liese also sought to redress generous tax dispensations that Europe's aviation industry currently receives, by asking for an increase in the amount of its emissions auctioned under the ETS, and a stricter cap.

“The level of auctioning in the aviation ETS is only 15% compared to an average of 40% for the rest of the industry. The cap is only 5% while other parts of the industry have to reduce their emissions by 21% by 2020,” Liese said to justify his amendments.

In 2008, the European Parliament called for the equal treatment of all transport sectors.

But while the current proposals may seem like a push for more equal treatment between sectors, low fares airlines that operate almost exclusively inside the EU airspace, such as Ryanair or EasyJet, feel penalised.

John Hanlon, the secretary general of the European Low Fares Airline Association (ELFAA), told EURACTIV that “ELFAA cannot support the attempt to address the loss of environmental effectiveness of these flawed decisions by the EU, in contravention of the findings of the Court of Justice of the EU, by seeking to further penalise intra-EU operators through adjustment of the level of auctioning, an annual reduction of allowances and amendment of the cap”.

For low-cost airlines a “reversion to full scope ETS is the real way to remedy the reduction in environmental effectiveness, instead of the attempt to inflict further discriminatory and distortive penalties on those operators and their end-customers, EU citizens”, Hanlon added.

Liese, however, denied such accusations, saying that the latest figures showed that the current legislation’s “cost for Ryanair has been €0.03 per passenger, €0.11 for EasyJet”.

Call for a swift adoption

The rapporteur has urged MEPs to adopt the amended legislation on aviation greenhouse gas emissions by April 2014, to avoid a prolongation of 'stop the clock'.

Liese, who is a member of the centre-right group EPP in the Parliament, is confident that his group will back the proposal. Socialist and Democrats are also likely to back the deal.

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.

  • January 2014: Vote in Environment Committee on the draft report
  • April 2014: Vote in Plenary
  • 2016: ICAO Assembly to come back on global MBM to reduce emissions

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