Monthly Archives: September 2011

U.S. commitment to curbing aviation emissions questionable as delegation joins meeting in India

This post was written by Jenny Cooper, Policy Associate for EDF's International Climate & Air Program. 

At first glance, it’s tempting to welcome a meeting in India about reducing emissions from aviation, given negotiations in the official international forum for discussing aviation have been stalled on this issue for 15 years.

But it appears that the government representatives gathered in Delhi for a two-day meeting ending today are bent on trying to block Europe’s enforcing a reasonable EU law that’s about to take effect.

Europe, after extensive deliberation, carefully entered the policy vacuum in 2009 by enacting its law with a constructive solution aimed at reducing emissions from aviation.

A dozen countries are meeting in India to try to block a pioneering EU law to reduce emissions from aviation, but the U.S. should abstain, as such a move would obstruct progress on controlling these soaring emissions. Thanks and photo credit to Flickr user Roy Stead.

That EU solution is the world’s first program to reduce global warming pollution from aviation; called the Aviation Directive, it’s a pioneering law that holds airlines accountable for their emissions associated with commercial flights that land at or take off from EU airports.

The participants of the meeting in India, hailing from a dozen non-European countries, claim the meeting is intended to make progress toward an international solution to address emissions from the aviation sector; however, the claim seems somewhat disingenuous.

First, the European Union was not invited to, and never notified of, the India meeting.  (Real progress toward a global deal seems challenging when a major player has been deliberately left out of discussions.  The Europeans invited broad stakeholder input into the design of their law and gave the airlines many opportunities to provide comments.  The airlines have had ample opportunity to prepare for the law, having known since 2009 that its cap on emissions is due to take effect in January 2012.)

Also, the countries attending the meeting haven’t exactly tried very hard before now to tackle – nor have they succeeded in tackling – emissions from aviation within the official international forum for commercial aviation, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

Countries should call for an enforceable global deal to cap and reduce aviation emissions, not oppose the EU’s law

Countries would be smart to use this meeting to call for a mandatory, enforceable deal to reduce emissions from aviation.

Instead, we’ve heard the participating countries are aiming to produce a declaration in Delhi to voice the countries’ collective objection to the EU Aviation Directive.

Saudi Arabia, which has played a distinctly obstructive role in both international negotiations on aviation emissions and UN climate talks, is expected to sign the declaration.

The Obama administration is expected to follow suit and sign onto the declaration, according to senior U.S. officials at a meeting with industry and non-governmental stakeholder organizations last week.

But a declaration opposing the EU law would obstruct progress on reducing emissions, and the U.S. should abstain from signing it.  (Natural Resources Defense Council’s Jake Schmidt has some more ideas on the declaration in Delhi at his blog: US to attend India meeting to try to stop global warming action on aviation…will these countries now lead on efforts to get a global solution?)

Having failed to deliver on the administration’s leadership commitments to tackle global warming in other forums, signing onto the declaration would place the U.S. administration squarely in the role of attempting to block other nations’ forward progress.

Three U.S. airlines — United/Continental and American — and their trade association, Air Transport Association of America (ATA), have challenged the legality of the Aviation Directive in Europe’s highest court.  EDF, in partnership with U.S. and European environmental organizations, has intervened in the suit in support of the EU law.  A preliminary opinion from the court is expected to be released on Oct. 6, and the gathering in Delhi appears timed to influence policy makers’ response to the release of that preliminary opinion.

Meanwhile, countries have spent nearly 15 years in ICAO attempting – and failing — to agree on an effective program to mitigate aviation's impact on climate change, and it’s unlikely any conversation in India would be more productive at addressing that.

Regardless, a declaration in Delhi to oppose the EU Aviation Directive isn’t the solution.

All airline passengers contribute to global greenhouse gas emissions from aviation, and this issue can be equitably addressed.  Currently, the European Union is leading the way with the Aviation Directive; that Directive, fully implemented, could go a long way toward providing a foundation for an even broader agreement.

Any country – in particular, the United States – that signs a declaration that fails to call for a general commitment to forge a global, enforceable solution for aviation emissions is engaging in pure and simple obstructionism.

If the United States isn't able to lead the way in reducing aviation emissions, at the very least it shouldn't try to thwart the EU’s efforts to do so.

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