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EU restates its case for including aviation in the ETS at US hearing

07 Jun 2012 18:48:34 | edcm

The EU remains committed to including aviation in its Emissions Trading System (ETS), a representative told the US senate's committee on commerce, science, and transportation at a hearing on Wednesday.

Jos Delbeke, director general for climate action, appeared before the committee to testify on behalf of the EU. Other invited witnesses included the US secretary for transportation, Ray LaHood, and senator John Thune, who has introduced a bill to block the inclusion of US airlines in the EU ETS (see EDCM 8 December 2011).

Under the auspices of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), major players have been discussing for over 15 years ways to carve out an agreement on climate change, which aims to create an international scheme for cutting emissions from the aviation industry.

The EU has always looked favourably on a global trading scheme for aviation, but only decided to include airlines in its own scheme after slow international progress. However, this has been met by international protest, including from the US.

US opposition

Senator Jay Rockefeller, who chaired the hearing, said in his opening statement that the aviation industry needs to act to cut greenhouse gas emissions globally.

But he added: "I have to confess I have some concerns over what happens if we turn this over to [the ICAO]. I'm just worried about whether you get a lot of non-European or a lot of third-world countries, do you actually get an agreement that actually means something?"

However, Rockefeller's concerns failed to translate into support for the EU's move to tackle aviation emissions using the ETS. "Unilateral action [by the EU] is likely not sustainable by international law."

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson backed Rockefeller's opposition. She said that "significant flaws" included a violation of US sovereignty as airlines also have to cover carbon costs of a flight's journey emitted over non-EU territory. Another is that no obligation in EU law exists to use the money paid by airlines for a specific purpose, such as improving fuel efficiencies.

"It is ICAO that addresses international [aviation] policy and for the EU to simply ignore it or not participate in what could be a voluntary global policy really doesn't make sense," she said, adding that fuel costs also acted as an incentive for airlines to cut their fuel consumption.

"The EU needs to step back," she added. "It's not worth having a tiff with anyone especially over an issue that's so black-and-white wrong for the EU to do."

Senator Thune also slammed the inclusion of aviation in the ETS, and reiterated concern that the money has not been earmarked yet for a specific purpose. "Very simply, the unilateral imposition of such a scheme on the US and other countries is arbitrary, unfair and a violation of international law."

ICAO holdup

The hearing also investigated what the "sticking point is" for ICAO negotiations on an international deal on aviation emission.

Nancy Young, vice president of environmental affairs at Airlines for America, told the Committee: "The EU ETS is the roadblock to getting that agreement at ICAO."

She argued that the block's own environmental policies were biased and made it pursue a solution for aviation emissions within its own ETS, while alienating other parties from the debate.

Standing firm

Delbeke said in his submission that the EU would not back down on legal grounds, and that the EU legislation has undergone a thorough process and has built-in flexibility, meaning that actions by other countries allow airlines to be exempted from the ETS.

"There is no prospect of suspending the EU legislation," the statement reads, explaining that it had followed the due course of legislative processes within the EU. "Aviation in the EU ETS is strongly supported by all member states, and as recently as 15 March 2012, the European Parliament adopted a statement calling for the EU to continue to implement the EU ETS legislation."

He also said that a large amount of aviation allowances is allocated freely to airlines, lowering compliance costs, which are already estimated to be low.

Delbeke clarified that the revenue from including airlines in the ETS has been earmarked to "tackle climate change in the EU and in third countries", including "the funding of research and development in the fields of aeronautics and air transport". MLDB

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