Mixed response from environmental groups to European Parliament vote on aviation emissions
Wed 14 Nov 2007 – Whilst the airline industry reacted with dismay to yesterday’s vote in the European Parliament for including aviation emissions in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS), there was scarcely more enthusiasm from environmental groups.
The European Federation for Transport and Environment (T&E), Europe's principal environmental organisation campaigning on sustainable transport, said the vote represented a step back from an earlier resolution by the European Parliament in July 2006 that said the aviation sector should cut emissions in line with Kyoto Protocol targets. The decision also comes in contrast, says T&E, to an earlier EU commitment to cut overall greenhouse gas emissions by 20-30% by 2020.
“MEPs are in danger of losing credibility on climate change,” said T&E’s João Vieira. “Just last year they acknowledged the need for a robust approach to address rapidly rising aviation emissions with a separate trading system and targets in line with other sectors. Sadly, they have bowed to industry pressure and severely weakened the plans.”
However, the federation did welcome the MEPs’ decision to apply the two-times ‘emissions multiplier’ (which takes into account the greater impact of aviation emissions as they occur at higher levels in the atmosphere), a call for future debate on the impact of aircraft contrails on climate change and the agreement that the aviation sector can only buy permits from other sectors if it first improves its own fuel efficiency.
WWF said the legislation as it stands, and as approved by the vote, does not go far enough towards curbing the sector’s emissions. “The European Parliament had the opportunity to show that Europe has real teeth when it comes to tackling global warming, ahead of the UN negotiations on the future of the Kyoto Protocol,” said Kirsty Clough, Climate Change Policy Officer at WWF-UK. “Instead they voted to only slightly improve the proposed legislation but missed the perfect opportunity to really curb the emissions from the sector that is the fastest-growing contributor to climate change.”
WWF was also pleased with the two-time multiplier, whereby airlines will have to buy two permits (EUAs) from other sectors for every one they emit, although the organisation says scientific evidence suggests the effect of aviation emissions are between two and four times the impact of emissions occurring on the ground.
The vote determined that of the permits given out to airlines, only 25% would be auctioned and the remainder free. WWF points to a report it commissioned that showed full auctioning would have little impact on the profit margins of airlines and yet still provide the most incentives to reduce emissions. It would also create a level playing field within the sector, it said, while potentially generating revenues worth between 3.3 and 9.8 billion euros per year.
However, says WWF, the ETS alone is an insufficient solution to aviation emissions. “It has always been clear that it was only ever going to be a first step in tackling emissions from aviation,” said Clough. “There must be other policies and measures put in place.”
Meanwhile, Friends of the Earth also criticised MEPs for not going far enough. “The European Parliament has failed to back proposals to significantly cut aviation’s impact on climate change,” said the organisation’s aviation campaigner, Richard Dyer. “Instead of getting tough on aviation, MEPs have only voted for modest improvements to European Commission plans to make aviation part of the ETS. This is inadequate and threatens EU targets for cutting emissions. It’s time our politicians showed real leadership on global warming.”
The European Parliament’s aviation proposal will now be considered by environment ministers in the European Council at a meeting next month in Brussels. “It is crucial,” said WWF’s Kirsty Clough, “that they do not opt to water down this proposal further, if the ETS is to be a strong enough first step towards tackling aviation emissions.”