US and India warn Europe that row over Aviation EU ETS could derail global climate change negotiations
Wed 18 Apr 2012 – The US special envoy for climate change, Todd Stern, has warned that the inclusion of foreign airlines in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) could hold up global climate change talks. Speaking at an energy and climate forum of major economies in Rome yesterday, Stern said that just because progress on a global agreement over aviation emissions reductions at ICAO had proved difficult, “it did not mean the multilateral approach should be thrown away.” Last week, India’s environment minister, Jayanthi Natarajan, said the EU scheme was “a deal-breaker” for the global talks on climate change. While US carriers continue to comply under protest with the EU ETS, Indian airlines serving Europe have been forbidden to take part and it is understood the two airlines involved, Air India and Jet Airways, have failed to submit their 2011 emissions reports by the March 31 deadline, leaving open the possibility of fines by their UK authority.
Stern told reporters after the Rome meeting – attended by 17 countries including China and India – that the inclusion of their airlines in EU ETS had been raised several times in “a uniformly negative way” and had the potential to hold up broader global talks on climate change or have “a spillover effect”.
He added: “I think there are quite a few countries – I’m not even talking about the US – who are quite upset about the ETS and upset about what in their judgement it says about the multilateral system. I think the view of many other parties is it might be difficult but the fact it’s difficult doesn’t mean you throw the multilateral system in the trash can.”
A forthright Natarajan, India’s lead climate negotiator, was even more scathing in her condemnation of the EU scheme, reported Reuters. “For the environment ministry, for me, it is a deal-breaker because you simply cannot bring this into climate change discourse and disguise unilateral trade measures under climate change,” she said. “I strongly believe that as far as climate change discussions are concerned, this is unacceptable.”
India tried but failed to get the issue raised at the last UN climate change talks in Durban last November, where it called for the prohibition of parties from engaging in unilateral trade and other measures (see article). It argued that the EU ETS as it stood was in violation of the UN climate change framework as it did not respect the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) of developed and developing countries. Instead of obligations requiring developed countries to provide financial assistance to developing countries, the scheme required developing countries’ airlines to contribute to climate and other activities in the EU, it said.
Although the US and India have joined together in their opposition to the Aviation EU ETS, both being parties within the “coalition of unwilling” states that have met twice to consider action against the EU, the US is strongly opposed to the CBDR principle to the extent that it did not sign up to the Kyoto Protocol largely because of it. Other developed countries such as Russia and Japan, also part of the coalition, have indicated they would not sign up to an extension of the Kyoto Protocol when it expires at the end of this year. Ironically, only Europe amongst the bigger developed nations has indicated it is willing to negotiate a continuance of the treaty.
Air India and Jet Airways, under Indian government instructions, are understood not have submitted mandatory emissions reports for last year to their EU Competent Authority, the UK Environment Agency. Aircraft operators were required to submit their reports by the end of last month or face a potential civil penalty. Those operators reporting to the UK face penalties of up to a maximum £33,750 ($54,000) for non-compliance. The UK and European Commission authorities now face the dilemma of either further inflaming an already difficult situation with India by imposing penalties on the two airlines or taking no action and risk undermining the scheme’s compliance requirements.
Elsewhere, Arab airlines have called on the EU to reconsider implementation of the ETS and redirect its environmental efforts through ICAO “and find a global solution and relinquish its unilateral application” of the scheme.
A meeting of the Executive Committee of the Arab Air Carriers Organisation (AACO) in Doha last week declared the EU ETS was violating the essence of the Chicago Convention, which stipulated air transport relations between states should be regulated by mutual consent and agreement.
“The fact that the ETS holds airlines of the world responsible for their emissions before the European authorities, contradicts with the principles of sovereignty of states over their national airspace, and that national institutions of states are responsible before their own authorities and not the authorities of other countries,” said the committee in a statement.
“The EU’s attempts to impose its own policies on other states will only lead to conflicts and trade wars which will not help the environment, the customer nor the airlines. AACO is quite aware of the necessity to mitigate the environmental footprint of aviation and it supports taking global measures agreed within ICAO.”
Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker, who hosted the meeting, said the ETS was currently one of the most controversial subjects facing the global aviation industry.
“There has to be a systematic approach to the implementation of any such scheme and, like many airlines around the world, we feel the EU needed to take a step-by-step consultative approach before imposing programmes and penalising an aviation industry that plays a crucial role in driving economies.”
Speaking today at an ICAO conference in Montreal, IATA Director General Tony Tyler said as aviation was a global industry, cooperation among governments had to be coordinated through ICAO.
“That is why Europe’s inclusion of international aviation in its emissions trading scheme is counter-productive. The regional approach distorts markets. And it will not have the positive impact on sustainability of globally coordinated measures through ICAO. On top of that, the unilateral and extra-territorial approach is seen by non-European states as an attack on their sovereignty,” he said.
“Nobody wants a trade war. And I am confident that if Europe participates whole-heartedly at ICAO – being prepared to find solutions with the international community beyond its current plans – ICAO will successfully facilitate a durable solution for environmental sustainability,” said Tyler.
In a recent article for the UK’s Guardian newspaper, EU Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said Europe “could not accept threats of all kinds of trouble just because a small price has to be paid for the pollution caused by travel, while no one grumbles about paying for online tickets, extra luggage or seat reservations.”
She said that the EU had been working since 1997 to achieve an international agreement in the sector but despite work and pressure from the EU, states in ICAO had not yet agreed on a global solution to limit aviation emissions. No one was keener than Europe, she maintained, to see an ambitious and internationally coordinated approach towards a global deal on curbing aviation emissions. She noted that many who had not formerly contributed much to achieving a global agreement had now become “warm advocates”.
She added: “This is why we are now devoting our energy to forging a global deal to curb air emissions. But we will only be able to achieve an agreement if some of the countries that have until now resisted it change their position. It is not enough just to say we need an agreement.”