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European Parliamentary Panel Approves Emissions Trading Postponement for Airlines

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

By Stephen Gardner  

BRUSSELS--The European Union should hurry to finalize before the end of April a decision to delay by one year the implementation of a law incorporating international airlines into the bloc’s Emissions Trading System (ETS), the European Parliament’s Environment Committee said Feb. 26.

The committee voted 50-0 with eight abstentions to back the European Commission’s “stop the clock” proposal on the inclusion of international aviation in the ETS. Under the proposal, operators of flights into and out of the European Union would be excused until 2014 from a requirement to report their greenhouse gas emissions and surrender sufficient carbon allowances to cover those emissions.

The European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, proposed in November 2012 to delay the inclusion of international aviation in the ETS in the face of pressure from a number of countries, including China, India, and the United States. Those countries said the European Union should not unilaterally impose controls on international aviation emissions, but should negotiate on a global system governed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) (35 INER 1092, 11/20/12).

If talks in the ICAO fail to produce international regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from aviation, international flights would be re-included in the ETS, the Commission said.

Committee to Seek Council Approval

The parliament’s Environment Committee backed the Commission’s proposal that flights into and out of the European Union should be granted a one-year exemption from the ETS, but that flights within the European Union should not. The requirement for airlines to participate in the ETS went into effect Jan. 1, 2012.

The committee opted to open negotiations with the EU Council, which represents the governments of EU member states, to finalize the decision as soon as possible, so that the European Parliament can ratify it before April 30, when under current legislation, airlines would have to report their 2012 emissions.

The approval of both the European Parliament and EU Council is required before the decision can take effect. The full parliament is expected to vote to ratify the decision at a plenary session April 15-18.

The committee added an amendment to the Commission’s proposed decision to clarify that the exemption was being given “to enable ICAO negotiations to move forward and reach a conclusion. … The derogation should apply for a maximum of one year.”

U.S. Warned on 'Credibility’

Peter Liese, a German center-right member of the European Parliament who prepared the committee’s position on the “stop the clock” proposal, said in a statement that the vote meant there were “no more excuses for third countries not to engage in the issue.”

In particular, U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, who “introduced the Kerry-Lieberman bill in the Senate which had foreseen emissions trading for the U.S. economy including aviation,” would “lose all credibility” if they continued to oppose controls on greenhouse gas emissions from aviation, Liese said.

Since the Commission proposed the “stop the clock” decision, the ICAO has claimed progress toward an international market-based measure to limit aviation emissions. It has tasked a High-Level Group on International Aviation and Climate Change with drafting an agreement by the next ICAO Assembly meeting, scheduled for Sept. 24-Oct. 5 (see related story).

Aoife O’Leary, a policy officer with the nonprofit group Transport & Environment, which advocates for cleaner transportation, said in a statement that “ICAO’s sluggish progress on curbing aviation emissions is legendary,” and following the committee vote, “ICAO must prove that it is serious about implementing a global aviation emissions solution.”

Backloading Agreement Sought

Separately on Feb. 26, the Environment Committee decided to put a decision on delaying auctions of 900 million ETS carbon allowances to a vote of the full European Parliament rather than open negotiations with the EU Council on the decision ahead of a Parliament vote. The vote will likely take place in April.

The committee voted 38-25 on Feb. 19 to support a European Commission plan to “backload” the auctioning of the 900 million allowances so that the auctions take place in 2019-2020 rather than 2013-2015. Each allowance represents 1 metric ton of carbon dioxide (see related story).

The Commission proposed the backloading plan to temporarily reduce the oversupply of carbon allowances. ETS prices have fallen to about €5 ($6.60), a level considered too low to provide an incentive to the heavy industrial plants and power stations covered by the ETS to make emissions-reducing investments.

Richard Seeber, an Austrian center-right lawmaker who opposed the backloading plan, said a decision of the full parliament on backloading should be sought because the “narrow committee vote” on Feb. 19 had not been a “sufficient mandate” to start negotiations with the EU Council, which must jointly finalize the decision with the European Parliament.


The European Parliament procedure file on a temporary derogation from the EU ETS for international aviation is available at http://bit.ly/YVL57G.