Europe must not turn its back on CORSIA or it could fall apart, EU transport chief warns MEPs
Wed 13 May 2020 – With a deadline of the end of next month (June 30) for countries to voluntarily opt in or out of the CORSIA scheme from its start in January 2021, the EU’s transport chief told sceptical members of the European Parliament this week that EU support was vital for the scheme’s existence. Without it, there was a clear risk CORSIA “could fall to pieces”, Commissioner Adina Vălean (right) told a meeting of the Parliament’s environment committee (ENVI). She reassured MEPs that a future revision of the EU ETS would not be compromised by the implementation of the global offsetting scheme for international aviation emissions and the two would be complementary. Meanwhile, Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans told a transport committee (TRAN) meeting that it was legitimate for Member States to ask airlines currently seeking state bailouts for environmental commitments in return.
He said States should question airlines on whether they would stop paying dividends, lower their carbon footprint, modernise their fleets, invest in sustainable fuels and cut their short-haul routes. The financial burden caused by the Covid-19 pandemic will fall on future generations, said Timmermans, who is also the Commission’s climate chief and responsible for the European Green Deal.
“What do we have to offer them?” he said. “I think it should be a better world, a cleaner and more sustainable world, and I believe it is our duty if we ask this extra effort of our children and grandchildren that we give them something in return.”
Timmermans also said he supported an aviation kerosene tax but acknowledged this was open to discussion.
Vălean, who recently said it would be unwise to insist States linked bailouts to environmental conditions, told the environment committee, of which she was once a member: “I can assure you that measures taken by Member States to support the recovery of the aviation sector will not in any way exempt companies from their environmental obligations. As you know, the Commission has set a target of climate neutrality by 2050 and all sectors of the economy, including aviation, must contribute to this target.”
She said the use of sustainable alternative fuels was the most promising way to decarbonise aviation in the future. “We must therefore ensure the sector has access to those fuels and the Commission will make a proposal by the end of this year,” she promised. Vălean cautioned that a current lack of volume of such fuels hindered setting up blending obligations. She also reported the Commission was looking at synthetic fuels and incentives on renewing fleets with more efficient aircraft.
Work was continuing to ensure the environmental integrity of CORSIA but the scheme was “now ready for take-off” in 2021, she said, and Europe should be proud to be among the first to take part in the first-ever sectoral scheme to tackle GHG emissions at a global level.
“I know some of you are asking if it was worth it, is it good enough,” she addressed MEPs. “For me, the answer is quite simple – yes. There is a clear risk that CORSIA could fall to pieces if the EU was now to turn its back on it. So yes, we need to be in. We need to be at the forefront of supporting CORSIA. It is the only realistic option to start tackling CO2 emissions from international aviation.
“I want to be clear: if the EU was to walk away from CORSIA this would provide a pretext for some major global players to bury it. It would do nothing to reduce international aviation emissions and set back negotiations within ICAO for many years.”
German MEP Peter Liese, the former rapporteur on the Aviation EU ETS legislation, said Parliament had always been sceptical about CORSIA, which he said was not in line with the science or the Paris Agreement.
“However, we can support it but only under a condition that is absolutely clear – that it is compatible with the EU ETS and that no-one will force us to weaken the EU ETS,” he said, adding the Commission should take the lead in restructuring the European aviation industry after the current crisis and should be ‘future proofed’.
Vălean reminded the committee that CORSIA had to be implemented through an amendment to the EU ETS directive following an impact assessment by the Commission, and Parliament, as co-legislators, would be fully involved.
“CORSIA will not replace the EU ETS, it will complement it, especially for those emissions not covered by the EU ETS,” she assured MEPs. “Implementing CORSIA will not pre-judge the forthcoming EU ETS review.”
She quashed suggestions of a full return to the original full scope of the EU ETS under which the emissions of all flights to and from the European Economic Area would be included in addition to the emissions from intra-EEA flights.
“ETS full scope would cause a worldwide boycott of the EU as happened before CORSIA was developed and the EU had to withdraw it under Stop-the-Clock,” she said. “The outcome would be the same again and we would risk killing CORSIA.”
In advance of the June 30 ICAO deadline, the Commission has today submitted a proposal to the European Council on the position and steps Member States should take on notifying their voluntary participation in CORSIA from 1 January 2021.
The proposal also covers which option they should select for calculating operators’ offsetting requirements during the 2021-23 pilot phase of the scheme. The Commission recommends the option of 2021, 2022 and 2023 emissions respectively, for each year of the pilot phase, is selected rather than 2020 emissions for each respective year.
“This approach takes into account the expected environmental and international transport benefits, the need to provide incentives to operators to reduce their environmental impacts and the importance of early action, while also taking into consideration the size of potential offsetting costs for European operators and any impact on their international competitiveness,” argues the Commission. “Indeed, compared to choosing the year 2020 as a reference, a reference to the years 2021, 2022 and 2023 respectively should lead to greater environmental effectiveness. This is because the emissions from international aviation are expected to be higher during 2021, 2022 and 2023 than during 2020, not least as a result of the significant impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on air traffic and emissions.”