MEPs block moves to exempt long-haul flights from trading scheme

Tight vote in the Environment Committee on aviation emissions saw EU stand up to international bullies, say MEPs


By Sophie Yeo

European lawmakers have rejected an agreement negotiated by EU diplomats earlier this month to exclude international flights from its emissions trading scheme until 2016.

The move will frustrate China and the US, who view an EU charge on their aircraft emissions as an affront to national sovereignty.

Votes at a session of the EU Parliament’s environment committee were split 29:29, an indication of how controversial the discussions have become.

The main EU Parliament could vote on the proposals in early April, but Bas Eickhout, who represents the Greens-European Free Alliance Party, told RTCC it’s unclear what the outcome will be.

“It clearly shows that Parliament is totally divided on this issue,” he said.

The vote has been hailed as a victory by environmental groups and some MEPs, who say emissions trading is an effective way to curb greenhouse gas emissions from the aviation sector.

Aviation is a big contributor to CO2, which causes global warming. In 2012, the sector was responsible for 689 million tonnes of CO2. A paper published in 2009 in the Atmospheric Environment Journal calculated that it was responsible for 4.9% of manmade climate change.

Diplomatic tensions

Discussions earlier this month between the European Parliament, Council and Commission came to a compromise on an ETS for the aviation sector.

Bowing to intense lobbying from industry and international partners, they agreed to exempt long haul flights from an EU charge on emissions, in order to allow political breathing space to establish a global carbon market for aviation.

Environmentally, this is less effective than the Commission’s proposal, which sought to regulate all flights within European airspace, whether long haul or domestic.

“In Parliament, we’ve always been far more in favour of sticking to our own ideas and not giving in to international pressure, but unfortunately in the Council people started to become very nervous and that has always led to a lot of dissatisfaction,” said Eickhout. “This vote shows that again.”

He added the importance of the European airspace to international parties meant that suggestions of a trade war were likely overblown. There are “always threats” he said, but it was important that the EU maintained its credibility in the face of them.

Trade war?

In 2012, the President of aircraft manufacturer Airbus wrote to the head of China’s Civil Aviation Authority, Li Jiaxiang, assuring him that he had been “very active” to “shelve” a unilateral emissions trading scheme within Europe.

Chris Davies, MEP for the ALDE party, tweeted: “EU should not accept trade war threats from China and USA bullies.”

But some MEPs are concerned that the move could impact upon attempts to secure an international deal on a global carbon market, set to be brokered by the International Civil Aviation Organisation in 2016.

“I think this idea to have this European aviation system and try to force the other countries is very counterproductive,” Eija-Riitta Korhola, MEP for the European People’s Party, told RTCC. “It destroys the negotiations atmosphere. It blocks the possibilities for a global agreement.”

It is unclear how the issue will now proceed.

The European Parliament could vote on it – in which case, a rejection would leave the EU with no legislation at all, taking them back to stage one .

An alternative is that the Parliament could return to discussions with the Council and Commission in order to reach a compromise.

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