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Non-EU airlines exclusion goes forward but sky still clouded

26 Feb 2013 18:48:52 | edcm

The exclusion of intercontinental flights from the EU carbon market for 2012 emissions moved a step forward on Tuesday, but members of the European Parliament took action to make clear that airlines would be forced to cover 2013 emissions if they fail to come up with a global market-based measure (MBM) - a goal currently clouded by political issues.

The deadline to cover 2012 emissions is in April this year, while 2013 emissions will have to be covered in April 2014.

Non-EU airlines' emissions were originally due to be included in the emissions trading system (ETS) from 2012, but this faced strong opposition from countries outside the bloc.

Therefore, the European Commission, in the so-called stop-the-clock proposal, asked to suspend for one year the inclusion of non-EU airlines in the ETS. This gives the UN's International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) time to come up with a global MBM at its general assembly this autumn (see EDEM 12 November 2012).

The Parliament's environment committee voted unanimously in favour of the Commission's proposal on Tuesday, but also approved amendments making it clear the suspension is "an exception" that should apply for no more than one year.

According to the amendments, the EU will not make more changes to its aviation emissions legislation unless the ICAO agree on a global MBM with a "realistic" timetable for implementation and a "comprehensive" framework for national and regional MBMs before the start of the global scheme.

The committee also voted to open negotiations with EU ministers. The plenary vote will take place in the 15-18 April session in Strasbourg, France.

The European Low Fares Airline Association (ELFAA) said it will challenge the stop-the-clock measure in court on the grounds that it is discriminatory towards flight operators in the EU.

'Political ping-pong'

ICAO member states still disagree on key issues regarding the application of an MBM (see EDCM 20 February 2013).

Paul Steele, director of aviation environment at the International Air Transport Association (IATA), said states struggle to agree on what body would have the authority to impose an MBM on airlines, and how to treat developing countries.

Countries aiming to set up an MBM have to decide the scope of this market, and that can be complicated.

"If you are a country wishing to impose a MBM, who do you impose it on? Do you impose it only on operators registered in your state? On all departing flights? On all flights within your sovereign airspace?" Steele said at a conference in London last week.

States also debate whether countries imposing a MBM have to get the consent of another state to whose airlines it would apply, Steele added.

Differentiated treatment between developed and developing countries is another sticking point. ICAO has imported this concept from the Kyoto protocol, even though some of the most developed aviation markets and airlines are found in developing countries, Steele said.

He also pointed to a "political ping-pong match" between UNFCCC and ICAO.

"The UNFCCC says very clearly that their expectation is that ICAO will do all this.... And with ICAO we constantly see the UNFCCC being held up as the forum to resolve this issue."

Which option best?

No frontrunner has so far emerged among the three key mechanisms currently under consideration - global mandatory offsetting, global mandatory offsetting with revenue generation and global emissions trading.

The EU said that it has an open-mind attitude. "We need to be looking into something which does meet some of the basic environmental principles like environmental integrity. Also are any of these approaches not going to result in significant distortion in the market," said Philip Good, an official at the European Commission's climate action directorate, at the same conference.

According to airlines industry insiders, offsetting would be the easiest to put in place.

"A global ETS would require commitments of the majority of governments to binding emissions reductions, and while Europe was able to bring that about within the context of a single political body, I find it difficult imagine achieving that on a global scale, particularly given the stance of the US on Kyoto," Andrew Herdman, director general of the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA), said at the conference.

"My personal bet would be on offsetting as the primary focus revenue generation diminishes the stance of success." Silvia Molteni

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