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Airline emissions deal uncertain ahead of EU’s September deadline

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Airline emissions deal uncertain ahead of EU’s September deadline

Tuesday, 21 May, 2013, 12:00am


Reuters in Montreal

China, US opposed EU’s carbon trading plan; deadline for new proposal is September

Hope is fading for a global deal to regulate the airline industry’s greenhouse gas emissions ahead of an Autumn deadline, even though failure could push the industry back to the brink of a trade war over the European Union’s emissions trading system.

Last November the EU suspended its controversial scheme to force all airlines to buy carbon credits for any flight arriving in or departing from European airspace.

The scheme had pitted European states against China, the United States, India, and others, who said it violated their sovereignty. The EU said it had to act, after more than a decade of inaction on the environmental impact of aviation.

European officials gave the United Nations’ agency that governs aviation, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), more time to craft a compromise in the form of a global regulatory regime. They have vowed to bring their own programme back into force unless they see real progress by the ICAO Assembly, which runs from September 24 to October 4.

But there is still disagreement on how to charge for emissions from flights that cross borders; how to deal fairly with developing countries; and whether airlines, states, or both should be subject to regulation.

“Think of aviation as a microcosm of the big geopolitical process,” said Paul Steele, executive director of the industry group Air Transport Action Group, and one of the technical experts who has advised ICAO on the issue. The Group, a coalition of some 50 plane makers, airlines, and narrower associations like Airports Council International, wants a global emissions regime, not a messy “patchwork” of systems around the world.

Steele said lack of progress on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the UN’s main climate treaty and home of the Kyoto Protocol, may be holding back talks at ICAO.

Take “common but differentiated responsibilities”, an argument that developed countries should shoulder most of the burden of cutting emissions.

That has been a key sticking point at ICAO. Steele said some countries fear that if they compromise at ICAO, it will prejudice broader talks ahead of 2015, when climate negotiators hope to clinch a new deal to cut emissions under the UN Framework Convention.

And so, even as aviation industry leaders urge ICAO to hammer out a deal, talks at a high-profile ICAO committee have effectively broken down, and a key member of the agency’s governing council has said a resolution may not be ready in time for the assembly. That could escalate the conflict. And while China partially lifted a retaliatory blockade of some US$11 billion in Airbus jet orders last month, a new chapter in the conflict could put those orders at risk.

Seeking to break the impasse, ICAO convened a new group, which Kerryn Macaulay, Australia’s council representative, recently said was to include “some of the decision-makers in government” who might be able to hash out compromises.

It was the creation of that “high-level group” that the EU cited when it suspended its scheme. It was just a new committee, but it was seen as a sign of good faith, and an opportunity to get a deal.

But as Macaulay told a conference hosted by the Air Transport Action Group in Montreal on May 13, the high-level group made little progress. Quite the opposite: “In some areas there has been a risk of reopening old issues that the council in fact was recently settled on.”




EU Emissions Trading System

International Civil Aviation Organization

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