EU 'foolish to risk' progress on global aviation emissions agreement

Europe must avoid isolating itself in the fight against global aviation emissions, writes Eija-Riitta Korhola.

By Eija-Riitta Korhola

18 Jan 2014

The EU is proud, and rightly so, to have taken the lead in measures to reduce potentially harmful emissions in all sectors. Alongside emissions from land and sea based transport, it is clear that aviation emissions must be reduced whether or not one accepts the direct link between climate change and such emissions.

Central to the EU's attempts to deal with this issue over the past 10 years is the emissions trading system (ETS). Recently, the European parliament debated and voted on changes to this system which most probably won't be accepted globally. Due to the lack of progress towards a truly international agreement, the EU included aviation emissions in the EU ETS at the beginning of 2012, thus imposing a requirement for all airlines to buy emission allowances for flights into and out of Europe.

Unsurprisingly, countries outside the union refused to abide by the EU's extra-territorial legislation and took steps towards retaliatory measures against that decision which greatly weakened our own airlines' competitiveness and their potential for growth.

So by the end of 2012, due to international pressure, the European commission proposed what is generally known as the 'stop the clock' decision to delay the inclusion of all flights to and from the EU in the ETS. This was done in order to create a good negotiation climate for a global agreement under the auspices of the international civil aviation organisation (ICAO). The 'stop the clock' decision was effective and led to considerable progress at ICAO where an agreement has been reached to develop a global market-based measure for reducing aviation emissions, set to come into force by 2020.

"The EU would be foolish to risk losing the momentum on this legislation which it has done so much to encourage"

For a brief period it seemed that common sense prevailed, however, in the coming days MEPs will be considering a proposal for a directive to modify the much revised ETS directive in order to include international aviation emissions again in the ETS system, this time with the so-called airspace model where all flights in and out of the EU will fall under the ETS between 2014 and 2020 when in EEA airspace.

Stopping the clock is one thing, turning it back to a time of dispute, retaliatory actions and commercial self-harm is something else. The supporters of this decision claim that we have a sole right to legislate on our own territory, which obviously is true, but I contend that, as a leader, we must also be wise. A vast majority of EU member states opposing this motion have also clearly understood that in this instance, less is effectively more.

Of course it is good to be at the forefront and lead by example, but this becomes almost impossible in isolation. Imposing this EU legislation on non-EU carriers again risk the kind of retaliatory measures and trade wars that we saw before the clock was stopped. All the major EU airlines oppose this proposal as does the international air transport association and the association of European airlines. Similarly, many EU member states oppose this as the risks are much too pronounced for such a marginal and disputed climate gain.

For these reasons, I propose that we should continue with the 'stop the clock' strategy at least until 2016 when there will be an ICAO general assembly aiming to get a real global solution in place. Such a solution, in my view, is only possible if we can maintain the positive cooperative momentum built up since that provocative clock stopped ticking. Facilitating a real global agreement requires collaboration and leadership from the front.

There are several reasons why the ICAO process now needs to be nurtured without imposing EU legislation on third countries. Primarily it would risk the ICAO process that has now started very promisingly and is the only prospect of a lasting global solution. The EU would be foolish to risk losing the momentum on this legislation which it has done so much to encourage. Finally, a global mechanism is being actively supported and most of the major players are literally on board. Isn't this what we have been striving for over the past decade?

In addition to the possible negative effects that this proposed directive may bring, it is most unfortunate that the timetable won't allow for proper parliament scrutiny but is forced to be concluded in first reading. The eventual plenary vote will be only on the trialogue outcome and not the democratically produced parliamentary report. Running the risk of international retaliatory measures again without full parliamentary consideration of such an important file is a real shame.

Read the most recent articles written by Eija-Riitta Korhola - ETS deal on aviation victory for 'pragmatism over ideology'

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