Monthly Archives: December 2011

Major U.S. environmental groups criticize Obama administration’s efforts to undercut EU law to curb aviation emissions

The CEOs of nine major environmental groups came out in force this week responding to a letter sent by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood to ministers in the European Union in which the Secretaries voiced objection to Europe’s pioneering law to reduce global warming pollution from airplanes.

The CEOs expressed their extreme disappointment with the U.S. objections to the EU law. They noted that “Asking America's allies to back down on strongly supported domestic legislation to reduce global warming pollution from aviation is simply not consistent with the historical U.S. leadership role on either the environment or the rule of law. If ever there was a time for U.S. leadership in both areas, it is here and now.”

International aviation represents a significant and fast-growing source of emissions. And, given nearly fifteen years of inaction by the International Civil Aviation Organization (the United Nations agency for aviation affairs), the EU has enacted a reasonable and effective law to address a portion of the sector’s emissions. The U.S. should be applauding such efforts, not thwarting them.

Earlier this week, Europe’s highest court ruled that the EU aviation directive is fully consistent with international law and relevant bilateral agreements. The high-profile case pit the U.S. airline industry against the EU and leading U.S. environmental groups, who joined European groups in supporting the EU law.

Given the imperative to reduce emissions as quickly, effectively, and efficiently as possible, and in light of the Court’s ruling this week, what we need from the U.S. government is political will, creativity, and a keen eye to the future. Instead, we’re confronted with myopic objections to a reasonable and effective law to reduce emissions. What’s more, we see little indication that the U.S. government is ready to take action either domestically or internationally to reduce emission from aviation.

As the letter to Secretaries Clinton and LaHood states, EDF and other groups are “eager to work with [the U.S. government] on creative approaches that overcome the logjams in ICAO and that capitalize on the innovative power of America’s aviation industry.”

Posted in Aviation| 2 Responses

In significant victory, Europe’s highest court upholds EU law that curbs aviation pollution

Early this morning, the highest court in Europe read out a decision in Luxembourg that evoked cheers across the environmental community: the Court of Justice of the European Union had decided the world’s first program to reduce global warming pollution from aviation, the EU Aviation Directive, is fully compliant with international law.

The decision was a strong finish at the EU court, where United/Continental and American Airlines — and their trade association, known at the time as Air Transport Association of America (now called Airlines for America) — had challenged the legality of the Aviation Directive, and EDF, in partnership with five other U.S. and European environmental organizations, intervened in support of the EU law.

EDF, with our other European and American co-intervenors, applauded today’s decision, saying in a joint statement:

Today’s decision makes clear Europe's innovative law to reduce emissions from international flights is fully consistent with international law, does not infringe on the sovereignty of other nations, and is distinct from the charges and taxes subject to treaty limitations.

Today's outcome was generally anticipated, as an Advocate General – a senior legal advisor appointed by the Court of Justice of the European Union – issued a formal recommendation to the Court supporting the legality of the EU law in October.  That opinion called the airlines’ challenges “unconvincing”, “untenable”, “erroneous” and based on a “highly superficial reading” of the Aviation Directive.

Aviation is one of the fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions, rising 3 to 4% per year.  Though airlines often say they agree with environmental groups that these growing emissions need to be addressed, until now, the sector has escaped regulations that would require emissions reductions.  But the EU Aviation Directive, the very law airlines were suing to get out of complying with, will cut 183 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) annually by 2020, the equivalent of taking 30 million cars off the road every year.

While the airlines were suing in the EU, however, at home they were lauding their environmental performance in advertising and media campaigns.

Annie Petsonk, EDF’s International Counsel, referenced these claims in her statement after the decision was announced:

It is high time airlines actually live up to their green claims, and comply with the EU law, which will cut pollution and spark low-carbon innovation.  Americans invented the airplane, now it’s time for us to create climate-friendly skies. The EU’s leadership challenges U.S. airlines to take charge and deliver to the flying public clean and green air travel.

This decision on the case now returns to the UK High Court, where airlines had originally brought the suit challenging UK regulations implementing the law, and which will implement the recommendations of today’s ruling.

And in the meantime, the Aviation Directive begins January 1 – now with legal affirmation – to hold all airlines accountable for their emissions from flights using European airports.  We hope the airlines use the new year as a fresh start to reduce their emissions, fly cleaner, and embrace the opportunity provided by the Aviation Directive to move to a lower-carbon aviation sector.

Posted in Aviation, News| 12 Responses

Obama Administration disappoints in objection to EU law to reduce aviation emissions

Tomorrow morning the highest court in the European Union will issue a landmark ruling in a legal challenge originally filed by three US airlines and their trade association. In the lawsuit, the airlines challenged the legality of Europe’s pioneering program to reduce emissions from flights to, from, and within the EU.

The Court of Justice of the European Union announced some weeks ago that it would release its opinion in the case on December 21. So, on the eve of the announcement of the decision of the European Union’s highest court, what did the US government do? Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood sent a letter to the leadership of the European Union objecting to the EU’s law to limit global warming pollution from aviation. Further, they threatened to “take appropriate action” should the EU implement its law.

While the positions outlined in the letter are not new—they simply restate what others in the Administration have been saying for the past few months—it is greatly disappointing that that Obama Administration, instead of waiting a few more days for the ruling of Europe’s highest court, would choose this moment to elevate its objections to cabinet level, especially when the US has never clearly stated the basis for the “legal concerns” it has often mentioned.

The US should be playing a constructive role in the global effort to reduce emissions and avoid dangerous climate change. And, just as companies operating within US borders have to comply with US laws, we would hope that the US would respect the rule of law and direct its companies to comply with the duly enacted laws of countries in which they operate.

Stay tuned for our full reaction to the ECJ ruling tomorrow.

Posted in Aviation| 1 Response

In Durban, world's major economies show will to address climate change

Sunday morning around 5 am, almost 36 hours after the UN climate negotiations were slated to conclude, the chair finally banged her gavel and declared the 17th annual UN climate ministers meeting at an end. Exhausted delegates and ministers — those that hadn't already melted away to the airport hours before — emerged from an already partially dismantled venue into the bright clear sunshine and fresh promise of a new day. And just maybe, that's a metaphor for the UN climate talks as well.

Durban was quite the cliffhanger, swinging back from the brink of collapse to produce surprisingly good results compared to the low incoming expectations. Instead of being the meeting that let the Kyoto Protocol "die on African soil", as many had feared, Durban will be known for launching negotiations of a new agreement that encompasses all the major emitters, and thereby beginning finally to erode the rigid old walls between developed and developing countries. The negotiations are to conclude by 2015, and come into effect by 2020, which is far slower than the enormity of the problem requires, but a fair reflection of what the political freight in 2011 can bear. As part of the deal, the EU has agreed to extend the Kyoto Protocol to at least 2017, and Kyoto parties are to finalize their next round of commitments by December 2013. These next couple of years will test whether the parties can now coax into flame the spark of hope struck here, or whether they go back into their respective corners of stalling and delay.

Lack of certainty over whether the global community will move beyond the vague action plans and pledges that were the outcome of previous meetings has hampered the development of robust climate policy in many nations, and threatened to undermine the important national commitments that have already been made in jurisdictions from Australia to California, and Europe to New Zealand. The agreement reached in Durban is an opportunity to improve upon that situation: its goal is an outcome, that is, in the words of the Durban conclusions, "a protocol, another legal instrument, or an agreed outcome with legal force under the UNFCCC", applicable to all Parties. Stronger than the "agreed outcome" language of the Bali Action Plan, the Durban meeting therefore cracks open the door on negotiations which could lead to the kind of comprehensive, legally binding treaty that can serve as a powerful driver of domestic action. But the lack of specificity in this negotiating mandate also means that the Parties could use it to continue to posture, delay, and reargue old fights.

In a top priority for developing countries, the gathered nations also took a critical step toward making the much-anticipated Green Climate Fund a reality, by agreeing on structural details for setting up the fund, which aims to finance efforts of developing countries to adapt to the impact climate change and curb their greenhouse gas emissions. And even though the new fund is not quite yet a functional bank, Germany, Denmark, and South Korea have made the first pledges for contributions in 2013.

In other key developments, there was solid progress on developing standards for anti-deforestation work in developing countries (known as REDD+, for Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation), as well as recognition that carbon markets could be used to finance forest protection. Unfortunately, though, standards were adopted for developed-country forest and land use accounting that create big loopholes in meeting their emission reduction commitments.

The global carbon market dodged a major bullet in Durban. Collapsed talks could have been disastrous. Instead, a positive signal came through clearly: the Kyoto Protocol will be extended; the Ministers endorsed market-based financing for REDD+; they have agreed to define a new market mechanism (in addition to the existing clean development mechanism (CDM) and joint implementation projects); and the EU is already talking about tightening its emissions reduction target, which will increase demand for international credits. And overall, Durban's signal that the world's major economies are serious about addressing climate change over the long term will boost countries' bottom up efforts to institute emissions trading schemes, as in Australia, Korea, Brazil, and China.

Nations that have implemented Kyoto through domestically binding targets, in particular the EU, have learned how powerfully these targets can drive national action, and how domestic carbon markets can drive innovation and the search for better, cheaper faster ways of cutting global warming pollution. It is vital that the next round of negotiations continue this drive.

Posted in Durban (COP-17), Forestry, REDD, UN negotiations| 2 Responses

Deep into overtime, countries in Durban lay groundwork for future global climate agreement

Breaking the record for the longest UN climate negotiations ever, the two-week-long international climate talks in Durban, South Africa wrapped up early yesterday morning with the world taking a small, but essential, step toward a global agreement to curb climate change.

The UN climate conference went into a second day past its scheduled end at the Durban International Conference Center, but its resulting Durban Platform has produced a good first step toward a global climate agreement.

It had been a long night leading up to the conclusion: enthusiastic soccer fans had taken a break from the dragging negotiations late Saturday night at the conference center's cafe and bar, seemingly the home to the only television not tuned to the center's closed-circuit channels, to drink local Castle beer and watch Barcelona's 3-1 victory over Real Madrid; and by the end of the negotiations at dawn on Sunday morning, most attendees — including a number of the negotiators and ministers covering critical issues at the talks — had already left, a significant number of them to catch their flights home.

But applause rang loudly from the remaining countries and non-governmental organizations in the large Baobob plenary room when the president of the conference, South African Minister of International Relations Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, wrapped up the UN climate negotiations' 17th meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP-17) at 5 a.m. Sunday.  Having run into a second day — 35 hours after its supposed 6 p.m. Friday deadline — Durban's conference now holds the record for the UN's longest climate negotiations.

The Durban Platform

The "Durban Platform" reached by countries at COP-17 reflects the "first small but essential steps toward creating a new global agreement to curb climate change," Jennifer Haverkamp, director of EDF's international climate program, said in a statement.

For the first time all major emitting nations, including China and India, have agreed on the need to move forward – and to do so together.

The challenge is that we begin the talks from the lowest common denominator of every party’s aspirations. For this effort to be successful, countries need to be ambitious in their commitments and to refuse to use these negotiations as just another stalling tool.

Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane

The president of COP-17, Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, speaking at the closing session of the UN climate conference early Sunday morning.

The conference also saw two big wins on individual policy issues:

  1. Finance: Accomplishing one of the highest priorities for this conference, countries agreed to start building infrastructure for the "Green Climate Fund,"  which is dedicated to helping developing countries address and adapt to climate change.  Now that the Fund has been launched, one of the highest priorities for countries is to find the public and private money to finance it.
  2. Avoiding deforestation: Countries included carbon markets as a possible funding source to pay for policies to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+).  This represents a major achievement for countries, as markets are important in achieving the large-scale, sustainable funding needed to keep carbon-rich tropical forests alive.
However, the Durban Platform included a less-than-positive move in rules to measure emissions from land-use and forestry.  In EDF's closing statement, Jennifer Haverkamp explained:

An unfortunate development in the Durban talks was the finalization of rules for measuring emissions from forests in developed countries that may allow countries to increase their forest emissions without penalty by almost half a billion tons of emissions a year.

Some countries will be rewarded even if they increase emissions from forests, while others will receive massive windfalls for doing nothing.

Read more about the Durban outcomes in EDF's closing statement and Reuters' wrap-up analysis.  We will be posting our own further analysis on the Durban outcomes soon.
Posted in Deforestation, Durban (COP-17), Forestry, News, REDD, UN negotiations| 2 Responses

Durban finance debate down to the wire

With the caveat that nothing is certain in these climate conferences until the deal is done, it appears negotiators in Durban are poised to set up the structure for the much-debated Green Climate Fund that would help finance efforts of some developing countries to adapt to the impact climate change and curb their greenhouse gas emissions.

This is exciting, and it doesn’t mean that we expect to see large sums of money flowing into the fund this year: There’s nothing wrong with that – you can’t put money in a bank until there’s a bank in which to deposit it. It is encouraging that Germany and Denmark pledged small funds yesterday to capitalize the Fund. Hopefully that is the start to a series of further contributions from countries over the next year.

At this point countries are still fighting over what institution or country will host the fund and there’s a complicated process between approving a fund and getting it up and working.

Report of the Transition Committee

The Transition Committee created last year in Cancun has been working to set up the infrastructure and the rules governing creation of the fund.

After a year of meetings, no one is completely satisfied with the Transition Committee Report. That’s not surprising given the complexity of the issues involved. Even so, it appears the convention here has little desire to reopen the debate in its final hours and may allow some of the dissent to be addressed in a cover note to the report.

Once the report is accepted, delegates are expected to set a deadline for appointing the board to govern the fund and having its first meeting—likely by April 2012. When the board is in place, we should see the details of the governing institution take shape.

At this meeting, Parties may approve the formation of a working group on long term finance that would create a series of options for delegates to consider at next year’s climate conference in Qatar; we’re still waiting these details to unfold.

And the final issue that needs to be decided in Durban is where the fund will be housed—which institution or country will actually host the fund. For example the Food and Agriculture Organization is “hosted” by Italy and physically housed in Rome. As to be expected, many countries are lobbying vigorously for the job.

We end with the same caveat with which we started: There is still plenty of time left in Durban for this scenario to fall apart in the usual chaos and bickering of the final hours.  The report has something for everyone, and not everything for anyone.  But it appears the nuts and bolts for setting up the Green Climate Fund are ready for assembly.

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