Bid to reduce impact of aviation on climate change
- Bid to reduce impact of aviation on climate change
Tuesday, 26 July 2005
European Commission services believe it is high time that air transport
is involved more fully in efforts to combat climate change. A draft
communication on the issue (initially due to be adopted by the Commission
on July 20 but finally deferred) outlines a series of options for
integrating this previously protected sector in efforts to combat climate
change, notably through Kyoto Protocol instruments.
On the basis of an in-depth examination of the various available options,
Commission services express their preference for the inclusion of the air
transport sector in the European emissions trading system. Even before
these proposals are formally presented, the Association of European
Airlines (AEA) has rejected the argument that growth in air traffic de
facto implies an increase in polluting emissions, arguing like the motor
industry, that the aviation sector is developing increasingly efficient
and cleaner aircraft.
Whereas overall EU greenhouse gas emissions fell by 2.9% between 1990 and
2002, emissions from international flights rose by 67%, 4.4% a year.
Experts do not deny the energy efficiency of aviation, which has improved
by 70% over recent years, but argue that the total volume of fuel
consumed and increased steadily, owing to an even greater increase in
traffic. These facts have been known for some time. Notwithstanding, the
aviation sector has not been bound by the rules and requirements
introduced through the international convention on climate change and
more specifically the Kyoto Protocol on reducing greenhouse gas
emissions, owing to the absence of a consensus regarding where and how to
apportion liability for the sector's CO2 emissions. Only the parties'
domestic emissions are considered, emissions due to international flights
being mentioned in the form of a memo.
The parties to the Kyoto Protocol did agree to an explicit obligation on
developed countries to limit or reduce greenhouse gas emissions from
aviation through the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO),
but the organisation's 188 members have thus far failed to agree on a
regulatory standards and/or the level of CO2 emissions applicable to the
sector, or on the definition of an efficiency indicator. The ICAO has
nevertheless endorsed the concept of an emissions trading system
applicable to the aviation sector, as well as the notion that member
states might include civil aviation emissions in their national emissions
On this basis, Commission services set to considering how to include the
aviation sector in the fight against climate change and in February 2005
made the issue one of the cornerstones of future policy in this area,
notably with a view to negotiations on efforts beyond 2012 (Commission
Communication "Winning the battle against climate change" (COM2005)35) -
see Europe Information 2936, section IV; document available on our EISnet
site at: www.eis.be > Advanced search > Reference=EURE;2936;401).
New means of reducing emissions
Whilst acknowledging that there is no rapid and simple technical
solution, the draft communication highlights the need to address the
problem through a global approach aiming to both enhance existing
measures and examine fresh options for action. These include research,
better air traffic management, energy taxation and integration of the
sector in the European emissions trading system.
Research: some 350 research projects have been undertaken since 1990 at a
cost of euro 4 billion, at least 30% of which have addressed the problem
of reducing CO2 and Nox (nitrogen oxide) emissions from aviation.
Extending and developing this work with a view to "greening" the air
transport sector will be one of the priorities of the 7th Framework
Programme for Research and Development.
Air traffic management: Improving air traffic management with the
immediate effect of cutting waiting time before take-off, engines
running, and reducing bottlenecks at airport approaches will be key to
reducing fuel consumption and polluting emissions: European single sky
initiatives and the establishment of SESAME, a European air traffic
control system, will be central to such efforts. Their speedy
implementation is a priority.
Energy taxation: Though generally imposed by member states for fiscal
ends, the introduction of a kerosene tax for civil aviation might also
contribute to reducing CO2 emissions. The Commission recalls that is has
repeatedly expressed a preference for rapid and harmonised fiscal
treatment of aviation fuel. It points out that following the adoption of
directive 2003/96/EC amending the structure of taxation for energy
products and electricity, the member states are at liberty to introduce a
tax on kerosene for domestic flights. Such a tax on fuel used for
domestic flights is already applied by certain third countries - the
United States, Japan and India - whereas the option has only been pursued
in the EU by the Netherlands. Subject to mutual agreement, such taxes can
also be applied in the context of existing EU legislation to flights
between member states. The Commission nevertheless acknowledges that
difficulties can arise where a third country operator enjoys traffic
rights and continues to benefit from exemptions under bilateral aviation
service agreements (ASAs).
Preference for emissions trading system
Commission services have therefore identified a need to go further and
consider new approaches, notably new market-based instruments such as a
tax on airline tickets and tours, though it is concerned that such
measures might "stifle" demand without encouraging operators to improve
their environmental performance. They have therefore placed emphasis on
emissions trading and charges, regarded as the most promising means of
responding to the aviation sector's impact on climate change.
Although at this stage they only include the "leads" and not the formal
legislative proposals, the proposals suggested by the Commission services
in this Communication are enough to make hardcore industrialists, who see
any consideration of environmental impact as a threat, to shudder. The
decision to postpone the debate and the adoption of this communication,
originally scheduled for July 20, has been officially justified because
of the general policy debate on the environment, scheduled on the same
date but nevertheless betrays the current Commission's excessive
reticence in all matters environmental and its fear of antagonising a
hitherto protected industrial sector. The delay could have consequences
on an international level, with the position of EU leader in the fight
against climate change is in danger being seen as weak and losing respect
just at a time when, on the eve of the second phase of negotiations on
the Kyoto Protocol one would expect it to be stronger and more committed
Airline companies on the defensive
The Association of European Airlines (AEA) are up in arms against those
who believe that airlines have no conscience when it comes to pollution.
It has defended the policy of introducing emission quotas per sector, a
policy which it believes to hinge on four main points:
- efforts undertaken over the past ten years by aeroplane manufacturers
and motorists to develop new technologies which are both cleaner and more
efficient in terms of energy consumption and emission reduction. The
current goal being to reduce CO2 emissions and noise pollution by half
and all other pollution inducing emissions by 80% by 2020.
- the EU's decision to implement the Single European Sky policy, which
could lead to a 12% reduction in CO2 by unit, further emission reductions
can be expected following the reduction in airport congestion.
- Recognising the importance of good practices, airline operators have
pointed out that aeroplanes should be driven and maintained in line with
the automobile sector practices and regulators should make more effort to
promote and encourage people to do so.
- associations are evaluating market-based options, in particular, the
trading of emission rights, not currently foreseen in the aviation sector
and claim to be actively seeking ways to reduce emissions whilst not
negatively impacting growth.