Liese secures Parliament mandate to back EU ETS airspace proposal and sets sights on revenue earmarking
Aviation EU ETS rapporteur Peter Liese during ENVI vote
Thu 30 Jan 2014 – The Environment Committee (ENVI) of the European Parliament today voted 49-6 in favour of supporting the European Commission’s EU ETS airspace proposal that aims to include emissions within EU/EEA airspace from all flights to, from and within Europe. The committee also passed amendments to the proposal that seek to restrict the airspace scope until 2016 rather than until 2020, as suggested by the Commission, plus the introduction into the directive of a legally binding commitment by EU member states to earmark EU ETS auction revenues for climate-related funding. The vote provides a mandate for the EU ETS directive’s rapporteur, Peter Liese, to negotiate with the Commission and member states, through the European Council, on the legislation. Member states are largely against the proposal and favour a continuation of the ‘Stop the Clock’ (STC) approach that restricted emissions coverage to intra-EU/EEA flights only during 2012, as do MEPs on the industry and transport committees (ITRE and TRAN), and tough trilogue discussions are expected during February and March to seek an agreement.
Liese said the ENVI vote reflected a fair compromise between the position of the Green MEPs and one airline association (the European Low Fares Airline Association) that wanted a return to the full scope of the EU ETS directive and that of ITRE and TRAN, which each voted for a continuation of STC to allow ICAO to reach a global market-based measure solution.
However, the ENVI vote sat uneasily with MEP Chris Davies, who said the opinions of ITRE and TRAN had been overturned, a matter that should have been put to the full Parliament for a decision. “We have no choice but to support Peter Liese on this but I do feel very uncomfortable about a procedure that is profoundly undemocratic,” he told the committee meeting.
The rapporteur of ITRE, Eija-Riitta Korhola, said the vote was a “poor result” and tweeted: “We had to give the negotiating mandate to Liese even if he does not represent the European Parliament majority. It is important to note ITRE and TRAN rejected the Commission’s plans. We don’t want trade wars. The mandate of the ENVI committee is exceptionally weak and this must be taken into account in the trilogue.”
Liese said that it was a difficult situation since taking it to a plenary session of the Parliament – as would be the usual step in the event of material disagreement between committees – would mean there was no time for the legislation to be passed by the end of April, when the existing STC directive expires. He said some elements had been taken from TRAN but conceded it was “not onboard”, although the committee’s rapporteur would be part of the trilogue process. A proposal by Liese to tighten the EU ETS emissions cap for aircraft operators and increase the level of auctioning of allowances was dropped in a compromise with the two committees.
He asked his MEP colleagues before the final ENVI vote “to support this mandate even if you’re not 100% satisfied, as it is still better than not deciding on anything at all.”
Trilogue meetings are set for 18th February and 4th March, with a third possibly to be added before the end of March because, Liese told a press conference after the vote, “the negotiations are certainly not going to be easy.” He said all sides in the process would have to compromise and be flexible.
One battle that Liese is particularly keen not to cede ground on is over the earmarking of revenues raised by member states from the auctioning of allowances. Parliament attempted to include a provision in the original directive for revenues to be ring-fenced for climate-related funding but proved unacceptable to member states. With his mandate, and backed by the other committees, he says, Liese is now insisting the issue be part of the negotiations and is looking for a legally-binding provision to be added to the new directive forcing member states to earmark revenues for international climate finance, such as the Green Climate Fund, and R&D in clean air transport technology.
If revenues were used for this purpose, argues Liese, third countries would be more willing to accept their airlines’ participation in the EU ETS. He said the one-year extension of STC in 2014 before the implementation of the airspace scope from 2015, as proposed by the Commission, should be used to persuade non-EU countries to accept the revised scope of the EU ETS based on revenues being used for climate purposes that would help both developing countries and the aviation industry in emissions reduction.
“It is important to get third countries included in the process,” said Liese. “We need to try to get acceptance for the airspace approach and pave the way for an effective international agreement. In my meetings with third countries I always hear the argument that the revenues are reserved for the finance ministers in EU member states. This is a weak point in our legislation which Parliament intends to change.
“I know this is very sensitive for the member states but in this situation everybody needs to be flexible and pragmatic.”
Liese said a compromise with the Council had to be found soon or the original legislation covering all intercontinental flights would automatically enter force from May 1 if it was not amended in time. “This would be a radical solution that some NGOs and one airline industry association favours but I think it would be too ambitious and create enormous difficulties with third countries,” he added, “That is why everybody needs to compromise now.”
Although pointing out the airspace proposal would regulate only 35% of aircraft emissions compared to the original scope, Brussels-based NGO Transport & Environment said it would at least capture a portion of long-haul flights, where the majority of emissions originated.
Welcoming the ENVI decision, T&E’s Aviation Manager, Bill Hemmings, said: “By backing coverage of airspace, MEPs are ensuring the system captures emissions from all flights – both intra-Europe and long-haul – over European territory. The decision also reinforces EU sovereignty, something a number of member states seem reluctant to uphold.”