Weak carbon price sees market analysts sharply downgrading forecasts of EU ETS cost to airlines in 2012
Mon 20 Feb 2012 – Despite a rebound in the price of European carbon prices late last week, analysts at Thomson Reuters Point Carbon have halved their estimate made last September of the cost of the EU ETS to airlines. Point Carbon has calculated airlines covered by the scheme will have to pay around 500 million euros ($660m) for the required permits to cover a potential shortfall of 59 million tonnes of CO2 this year, at an average estimated price of 8.50 euros ($11.25) per tonne. Barclays Capital put the overall 2012 cost even lower – around 300 million euros ($400m) – which an analyst described as “a drop in the ocean” compared to the cost of jet fuel. Meanwhile, Middle East carrier Etihad has announced a carbon surcharge of $3 per passenger for flights into and out of Europe from March 1, following similar surcharges being imposed by Qantas and major US carriers.
Research carried out by Point Carbon and consultancy RDC Aviation predicts aviation emissions covered by the EU ETS will be around 242 million tonnes (Mt) in 2012, compared with the 2004-6 baseline 221 Mt. With the cap set at 97%, and 85% of the total allowances being allocated for free, this leaves the industry needing to purchase 59 Mt, reported Point Carbon senior analyst Andreas Arvanitakis at the recent Aviation Carbon 2012 conference. He added the 500 million euro bill could be considerably reduced still further if airlines properly planned their carbon strategies, for example by purchasing cheaper Certified Emission Reduction (CERs) units.
Arvanitakis said he expected the price for EU allowances (EUAs) to remain low and stable during Phase 3 (2013-2020) of the EU ETS and was currently forecasted to be around 12 euros per tonne based on the current overall 20% EU emissions reduction scenario, but added this would change if the overall cap was tightened.
According to the Barclays Capital analyst, non-EU airlines will be expected to pay for just a quarter of the total EU ETS aviation costs in 2012, or around 75 million euros ($100m) of the 300 million euro overall cost.
“With these costs likely to result in passenger fares going up by little more than 2-3 euros per transatlantic flight, it is really hard to see what all the fuss is about,” a Reuters report quotes the analyst.
If the forecasts prove correct then the airline industry’s estimates of 2012 EU ETS costs will have been greatly exaggerated. Two months ago, IATA estimated the cost could be as much as 900 million euros in 2012, based on an average price of 13 euros per tonne, rising to 20 euros or much higher in 2020. China’s air transport association puts the 2012 EU ETS bill for its member airlines alone at about 800 million yuan, around 95 million euros.
Earlier this month, Qantas Airways said it was estimating it would have to pay A$2.3 million ($2.47m) in 2012 for its necessary EU ETS allowances and from February 15 would be adding a surcharge of A$3.50 ($3.76) each way to fares for flights to and from London and Frankfurt. At the same time and on the same routes, the airline said it would be increasing its fuel surcharge by A$60 ($65) per passenger per flight. The total fuel surcharge on its European flights now stands at A$350 per flight.
Carbon costs will also be applied to the airline’s domestic routes from July 1 as the Australian carbon pricing system comes into effect with a starting price of A$23 ($24.70) per tonne, a level that will remain until 2015. The estimated cost impact on the Qantas Group (which includes Jetstar) is in the region of A$110-115 million ($118-124m) in 2012/13.
The cost pass-through for Qantas and QantasLink services will be based on flight sector length, with surcharges ranging from A$1.82 to A$6.86 per passenger per sector. Jetstar is adopting a different policy of increasing fares by a flat A$10 to include both fuel and carbon prices.
“The additional cost of carbon isn’t something we can absorb. As a result, we have decided to be transparent in providing our customers with the actual details of what that cost will be on top of their ticket,” Qantas’ Group Manager Environment and Carbon, Andrew Sellick, told the Aviation Carbon 2012 conference. “We will be passing on the actual cost – there is no profiting whatsoever, so from an EU ETS perspective it is after taking into account our free allowances.”
He added that the EU ETS carbon surcharge would be reviewed regularly depending on EU carbon prices but conceded that it may not always be possible to pass on the full cost in future due to strong competition on the European routes.
Announcing a $3 per passenger EU ETS surcharge for flights into and out of Europe and a 3 cents per kg for cargo shipments, Etihad Airways CEO James Hogan said the airline was strongly opposed to the EU scheme.
“We have invested many millions of dollars to ensure we operate a young and highly efficient fleet but are still being penalised,” he said. “Our efficiency is reflected in the relatively low additional charge and we will continue to be transparent in keeping our customers fully informed of this carbon charge.”
Without specifically naming the EU carbon scheme as the reason, major US airlines announced last month they would be imposing a $3 surcharge on flights to and from Europe (see article).
A recent paper by MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics said the economic impact of the EU ETS on US airlines is likely to be small.