Just a few weeks before the upcoming Durban climate conference, a surprising international coalition has joined forces on climate action. Unfortunately, if 26 countries (listed below) have decided to work together, it is not to take any type of action that would help prevent any impacts of climate change, but to block another group of countries from taking actions of their own. Thirty European states are planning to include emissions from aviation in their climate regulations but most of the other nations have rejected the possibility for the EU to include their own companies in this scheme.
Of all the sectors generating greenhouse gases, aerial transport is the one growing the fastest in Europe. The emissions generated by aviation in Europe have almost doubled since 1990, while emissions from most other sectors have gone down. Until now, it is also one of the last sectors of our economy for which there was no requirement to reduce emissions, as aviation is excluded from the scope of the Kyoto Protocol and, up until now, from the EU scheme of emissions trading.
The EU has now decided that it was time to take action and plans on including aviation emissions in its carbon trading scheme, requesting companies flying in/out of the EU to collect carbon credits to compensate for their emissions. You would think that the international community would welcome such a decision to ensure that all major contributors of greenhouse gases take their fair share of action against climate change. Stunningly, the EU is actually facing a substantial coordinated push back from most of the other major economic actors. The US Congress is currently passing a law making it illegal for US airlines to comply with the EU regulation, setting the stage for a major trade conflict.
Also, the 26 countries listed below have decided to raise the issue at a meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) earlier today. The organization, despite its failure to make any progress itself towards the regulation of aviation emissions, has now just adopted a paper urging Europe to step back.
Let’s conclude by debunking three misunderstandings related to the scheme…
CLAIM 1 - this regulation will make all countries, including the least developed, pay for climate action
FALSE: Seventy-five countries, including most least developed countries, are excluded from the tax as they do not possess a domestic airline with flights to/from the EU. In addition, a special “de minimis” clause in the EU regulation ensures that smaller airlines are not required to pay the EU Aviation tax, thus leading to the exclusion of another 23 states from the scheme. Surprisingly enough, 7 of these countries (Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Colombia, Cuba, Guatemala, Paraguay, and Peru) have actually supported the rejection of the EU scheme by the ICAO today. Finally, the regulation does not request government of any countries to contribute as it only targets private entities.
CLAIM 2 - The additional costs on the airlines will be so huge as to shut down much long-haul traffic to/from the EU.
FALSE: The EU plans to allocate free of charge 85% of the credits to airlines, with only the remaining 15% being auctioned. In practice, this means that according to the current carbon price, the estimated additional cost would amount to somewhere close to 12 Euros per passenger for a return trip from Europe to New York (for the comparison, this is about the same amount that the US requests to cover additional security costs). In any case, no one expects the airlines to pay the bill themselves, as they will immediately reflect this additional cost in the price of the tickets (experience with the energy sector in Europe has actually demonstrated that companies have greatly increased their revenues with their inclusion under the EU scheme).
CLAIM 3 - The EU prefers a unilateral approach to impose its own agenda on others.
FALSE: The regulation provides that any other country taking action on aviation emissions will be excluded from the scheme. Also, the regulation requires that the EU continues to actively seek an international agreement on aviation emissions, in which case aviation will no longer be covered by the regulation. The regulation of aviation emissions have been discussed for many years under the ICAO without any substantial progress being made, and it is this same organization that is now rejecting the plan of the EU.
The list of the states supporting the action at the International Civil Aviation Organization against the EU: Argentina, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, China, Colombia, Cuba, Egypt, Guatemala, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Nigeria, Paraguay, Peru, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Swaziland, Uganda, United Arab Emirates and of course the United States.
Not taking any serious action against climate change within your own jurisdiction is one terrible thing already, but preventing others from taking their own action to control greenhouse gases emissions is just simply pathetic.
About the authorSébastien Duyck
Passionate environmental advocate, PhD student (Human Rights and Environmental Governance). Following particularly UNFCCC, UNEP and Rio+20 processes