WWF: EU must hold nerve on aviation climate deal

By John Parnell

The EU must not back down from its threat to “restart the clock” on including international airlines in its emissions trading scheme, WWF has warned.

The EU attracted the ire of a number of emerging economies including Brazil, India and China, after it stipulated that any flight landing or taking off from an EU airport had to account for its emissions in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).

It dropped the rule with the so-called ‘stop the clock’ announcement last November but warned it would return if “significant progress” was not made this year at the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

Official talks on a global emissions market for aviation will resume in the next few weeks at ICAO, ahead of the body’s General Assembly in September.

“The ETS has been a double edged sword. It was the first and in many ways successful mechanism to reduce aviation emissions. It was a real catalyst for action within ICAO,” Jean Leston, transport lead, WWF-UK told RTCC. “If we didn’t have ETS we wouldn’t have this level of interest in Market Based Mechanisms (MBMs) today.

“On the negative side, some people have had their heads turned since stop the clock and have forgotten that we have a very limited period of time [to get a deal].

China, India, Russia and Brazil were among the most vociferous opponents to the EU’s aviation emissions scheme (Source: Flickr/Julian Herzog)

“There’s a danger that a lot of countries and airlines think that the ETS is fatally weakened by stop the clock and is unlikely to restart. So all that useful pressure has now sadly disappeared. No one wants to see a weakening of the ETS or the possibility of a trade war.

“The worst case scenario is no outcome in September and a cave in by the EU in the ETS. That’s what we have to avoid,” she added.

The decision to halt the inclusion of foreign airlines’ EU flights in the ETS was linked at the time to a deal between airplane manufacturer Airbus and China.

China postponed a $12bn order of Airbus planes in retaliation for its airlines being required to take part in the ETS.

“We hope we will go back to business as usual…and that we won’t have to worry about ETS when we do business here,” Laurence Barron, president of Airbus China said shortly after the EU announced the stop the clock measure.

China has reiterated that it will not participate in any “compulsory market measure” of the EU, setting up the prospect of an ongoing trade dispute.

The two are already in disagreement over the subsidised Chinese solar power components entering the European market. The EU has announced that a 47% levy will be added to compensate for the subsidy and level the playing field for European manufacturers.

“It will be very difficult to restart the clock on the ETS. The Airbus intervention has set a dangerous precedent and it shows that some governments will do anything to respond to industry requests. Their economic preoccupation blinds them to larger environmental issues,” said Leston.


A climate change symposium at ICAO last week brought together policymakers, airlines and civil society to discuss the options for a global agreement to tackle greenhouse gases from the sector.

Leston said that airlines were pressing for a deal but until many smaller nations were armed with the facts, there may be a reluctance to commit.

“I have been pleasantly surprised by how strongly supportive of global MBMs the industry has been as a whole,” she said.

“I hadn’t appreciated how much knowledge on global MBMs needs to be imparted to a lot of countries that are struggling to understand why it is important. I wasn’t expecting quite so much indifference. That suggests it will be difficult to agree an MBM this year.”

Aviation accounts for between 2-3% of global greenhouse gas emissions with the figure rising.

Some have backed a carbon levy on aviation and shipping as a means of raising funds for the UN’s Green Climate Fund, that aims to raise $100bn a year by 2020 for low carbon projects.

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