North America turns up heat on Aviation EU ETS by urging ICAO to pass "mutual consent" resolution
Mon 13 Sept 2010 – According to the New York Times, the United States, Canada and Mexico have urged the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to pass a resolution stating that countries “seeking to implement an emissions trading system that applies to other contracting states’ aircraft operators” do so only “on the basis of mutual agreement”. If agreed upon, the resolution would be non-binding, says the paper, but would add to international pressure on Europe to at least delay the start of its system in January 2012. This is the first public intervention by the Obama administration on the Aviation EU ETS, which applies to all operators, regardless of nationality, flying to, from or within EU states. A number of leading US airlines, backed by the Air Transport Association (ATA), have already made a legal challenge to their inclusion in the scheme.
The NYT reports the three countries acknowledge in their submission, seen by the International Herald Tribune, that pressure was increasing to establish international rules on aviation emissions but said there was “no consensus on such a global approach at this time”.
The aviation industry has fought hard for an international agreement on aviation emissions, which would eventually lead to the formation of a global market-based scheme, administered by ICAO, that would replace the Aviation EU ETS and similar national cap-and-trade schemes. However, ICAO member states have been able only to agree on an annual 2% fuel efficiency target as a means of bringing down aviation CO2 emissions over the short, medium and long term, despite passenger traffic rising at around 5% annually on an historical basis.
In the article, Julie Oettinger, an Assistant Administrator at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), said the Obama administration “is committed to addressing climate change, including emissions from international aviation.” She added the United States was seeking agreement at ICAO “on a more ambitious global goal” of carbon-neutral growth by 2020, using 2005 as the baseline. This is similar to the pledge put forward by the international airline industry itself.
A group known as the Directors General Climate Informal Group (DGCIG) was set up by ICAO President Roberto Kobeh González in March (see article) to explore the possibility of extending the existing reduction ambitions reached by ICAO states ahead of the ICAO Assembly later this month. However, it appears no consensus has been reached by the group. There is also little appetite within the wider global climate change negotiating process conducted by sister UN agency the UNFCCC for dealing with international aviation emissions.
Previous failure at ICAO to come up with ambitious targets to cut aviation emissions, despite being tasked to do so 13 years ago, eventually led to the European decision to include aviation in its Emissions Trading Scheme. The Aviation EU ETS directive was drafted to allow for reciprocity agreements with other countries who took similar measures. Europe had high hopes that the new US administration would enact climate change legislation that included aviation emissions in a similar cap-and-trade scheme that would have exempted, or partially exempted, US carriers from the EU ETS. However, those hopes are fast fading.
EU Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard responded to the North American call by accusing the United States of effectively demanding a “veto right over what measures states can take to limit the climate impacts of aviation.”
Ms Hedegaard added that changing the Aviation EU ETS start date of 1 January 2012 would require a revision of EU law by legislators. Other EU officials are quoted as saying Europe was determined to proceed with the scheme because emissions from airlines had shot up in the last 20 years.
The legal challenge to the EU ETS by the ATA and the three airlines – United, Continental and American – has been transferred from the High Court in London to the European Court of Justice but it is unlikely to be heard until next year at the earliest.
The withdrawal from the Aviation EU ETS by US and other non-EU aircraft operators to Europe would be a major, if not fatal, blow to the scheme as it would lead to serious and unacceptable competitive distortions with European carriers and put in jeopardy bilateral agreements. Not to mention a dent in Europe’s overall emissions reduction targets.