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Europe guts aviation emissions-reduction law

Members of the European Parliament today capitulated to pressure, bullying and threats from third countries, the aviation industry and EU leaders lacking vision and courage by voting to shrink the aviation emissions trading system (ETS), reads a Transport & Environment press release. The weakened ETS will only cover flights between EU airports until 2017, which leaves long-haul flights totally unregulated and thus reduces the amount of CO2 emissions covered by three quarters, compared with the original full aviation ETS agreed in 2008.Airbus-A400M_still-in-production

EU legislation on aviation emission allowances would cover only intra-EU flights until the start of 2017, but would apply to all flights to or from the EU thereafter, under rules approved by Parliament, annonced the press bureau of the European Parliament. The legislation would also require EU member states to report on how they spend revenue from auctioning emission allowances.

“For the environment, this text is not only better than the Council position, but also better than the Commission proposal. I thank my colleagues for giving it the support it deserved”, said lead MEP Peter Liese (EPP, DE). The informal agreement struck with Council of Ministers was approved by 458 votes to 120 with 24 abstentions, despite having been opposed by the Environment Committee in March.

“The key element for us concerns the scope. The Emissions Trading System will again apply in full after 2016. Parliament could not accept the Council’s wish to ‘stop the clock’ until 2020. We have the next International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) assembly in 2016, and if it fails to deliver a global agreement, then nobody could justify our maintaining such an exemption for another four years”, Mr Liese added.

In negotiations, MEPs also secured provisions requiring member states to report on how they spend revenues from ETS allowance auctions. Those revenues should be used to tackle climate change and fund research, inter alia for low-emissions transport, in particular in aeronautics. Such transparency is key to underpin the EU’s international commitments, MEPs say.

The legislation now needs to be approved by the Council of Ministers.

This vote effectively prolongs until 2017 what was supposed to be an interim one-year freeze of the law known as ‘stop the clock’. Stop the clock was a substantial political concession by Europe in late 2012 which gave ICAO, the UN’s aviation body, time to agree a global measure to cut aviation emissions at its 2013 triennial assembly.

Bill Hemmings, aviation manager at Transport & Environment, said: “Just when the IPCC’s latest report shows how climate change is already affecting every aspect of human life, European governments and politicians have chosen to effectively scrap the only law in the world that attempts to curb aviation’s soaring emissions. Regulating emissions in European airspace is not only our right, but also our obligation – something those who cried wolf about a ‘trade war’ seem to have forgotten.”

The vote today also envisions a ‘snapback’ to the original ETS in 2017, if ICAO fails to agree details of a meaningful global measure to reduce emissions at its next assembly in September 2016. Last October, however, ICAO failed to make any meaningful progress, merely agreeing to ‘develop’ (which is not the same as implement) a global deal for 2020, reads the same press release of the Brussels based group.

When the inclusion of aviation in the ETS entered into force in 2012, threats of trade wars and fierce industry criticism led by Airbus as well as third countries such as China, Russia and the US led the EU to backtrack on keeping intercontinental flights in the system.

“If no meaningful progress is made in ICAO in 2016, the pressure on decision-makers to stand by their promise to revert back to a full aviation ETS will be overwhelming,” Hemmings concluded.

Aviation is the most carbon-intensive transport mode, responsible for about 5% of man-made climate change. If aviation were a country it would be ranked 7th in the world for CO2 emissions – between Germany and Korea. EU aviation emissions, a third of global totals, have doubled since 1990 and will triple by 2050 if unchecked.

The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) agreed at its 38th assembly to adopt a global market-based measure (MBM) on aviation greenhouse gas emissions in 2016, to be implemented by 2020. To bridge the time gap, the Commission tabled new draft legislation in 2013 which aimed to reduce the proportion of emissions to which the ETS scheme would apply for flights to and from countries outside the EU until 2020.

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