Aviation Emissions Law to Test Europe’s Global Power

Written by | Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

Concerns in Brussels are mounting that the emissions trading system (ETS) for aviation is rapidly turning into a political question and a test for the EU’s power and influence on the world stage. In particular, members of the European Parliament and industry representatives have expressed their uneasiness about possible implications of the ETS for Aviation if this is approved in the key vote in the Parliament’s environment committee on 30 January. The EU began applying its emissions trading scheme to all airlines using EU airports in 2012 before freezing the scheme following a strong opposition from the US, China, Russia and other countries. Brussels then decided to reduce its scope to airlines operating only inside the EU’s borders, pending a global agreement at the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
Yet, some foreign airlines have been reported to have circumvented the European rules, including allegedly Chinese airlines operating intra-EU flights, and even intra-German ones, without complying with the CO2 legislation. “Air China is flying regularly between Athens and Munich and China Eastern between Frankfurt and Hamburg … without complying,” MEP Satu Hassi explained, calling on the Commission “to make it clear both to the carriers and the member states” that they have to comply with the law. MEPs and green campaigners alike have suggested that particularly the UK, France and Germany – all of which are Airbus stakeholder states – have surrendered to “economic blackmail” from China, which threatened to no longer buy Airbus planes if the EU carried on with its legislation. “If we bend to economic and political pressure, we’ll lose all credibility,” MEP Gerbrandy said.
The European Commission issued a legislative proposal in December 2006 to launch the so-called EU’s Emissions Trading System (ETS) that was designed to tackle aviation’s fast-growing contribution to climate change. This involved imposing a cap on carbon dioxide emissions for all planes arriving or departing from EU airports, while allowing airlines to buy and sell “pollution credits” on the bloc’s carbon market, and so reward low carbon-emitting aviation. After the legislation took effect in January 2012, some non-EU governments and airlines have threatened legal action or trade retaliation unless they are granted exemptions. China, for example, claimed special dispensation as a developing country. However, EU officials have emphasized that China has actually a higher GDP than Greece or Portugal and question why its businessmen should be exempted from paying the same carbon taxes that others do.

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