Aviation battle lines drawn as first attempt at a global carbon deal turns sour

By John Parnell

The row over the EU’s aviation carbon trading scheme has intensified with both sides making ramping up the rhetoric.

The EU has included all flights that use EU airports in its emissions cap and trade system, regardless of the nationality of the airline. A number of countries including India, Russia and the US oppose the move citing it as unlawful.

The carbon trading platform requires industries to purchase credits for their carbon emissions with spare allowances traded to those who need extra.

The EU plan asks all airlines arriving or leaving from its airports to cover 15% of their emissions with carbon credits. (Source: Flickr: antwerpenR)

China is thought to be working on a retaliatory law for its own carbon market, which is still in the making and India airlines have already ignored a reporting deadline.

A Senate panel passed a bill yesterday, to stop US airlines from taking part in the EU plan was blasted by the US-based Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) while a group representing the American airline industry welcomed the move.

“This important legislation and the committee’s approval sends a strong message to the administration and the EU that Congress objects to this unilateral taxation scheme that will not benefit the environment,” said Nicholas E. Calio, President and CEO, Airlines for America.

The group’s statement also claimed: “The funds collected do not have to be used for environmental purposes and in fact can be used to stave off Europe’s debt crisis.”

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The EDF however, claimed the US had last interfered in international legislation through its own laws, during apartheid in South Africa.

“Legislation that blocks American companies from obeying the laws of the countries in which they do business is almost unprecedented in US history, showing up most recently when Congress barred American firms from suborning apartheid in South Africa,” said Annie Petsonk, international counsel at EDF.

“How disconcerting that airlines, which are spending significant funds touting their environmental friendliness, are acting as though an anti-pollution law is as grievous as a massive human rights violation,” added Petsonk.

A coalition of NGO’s including Oxfam America, the Sierra Club, Greenpeace and 350 have said the bill sets a “disturbing precedent of undermining international law”.

EU climate action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard, a vocal backer of the aviation carbon trading scheme vented her frustration on twitter.

The EC told RTCC they would not be issuing a statement as its policy is not to comment on unfinished legislation.

Funds from the aviation and shipping industries related to their emissions have been touted as a possible source of climate finance. However, opponents to that proposal and that of the EU, want any mechanism related to their emissions to be run through the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

If that process was successful it would be the first global deal on carbon emissions, a goal of the UN through it climate change agency the UNFCCC.

The second day of a meeting between 16 non-EU nations opposed to the European legislation takes place today.

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