EDF Talks Global Climate

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

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

Durban: UN aviation agency touts green initiatives, but emissions reductions nowhere to be seen

EDF has a team here in Durban, South Africa for two weeks to participate in the UN climate summit. One of the issues we’re engaged on in the negotiations is reducing emissions from international aviation and maritime shipping.

With tens of thousands of people from around the world here to discuss a global response to climate change, the daily schedule is always packed full of official negotiations, large plenary meetings, and press conferences.

Each day also features a number of “side events” — events outside the official negotiations put on by any “observer” of the climate negotiations, including countries, UN agencies,  and non-governmental organizations (like EDF) — which serve as an important venue for information sharing, creative thinking, and open discussion on policy recommendations.

Earlier in the conference, I attended “Emissions from international transport – global actions for global industries,” a side event jointly hosted by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the UN agencies for aviation and maritime shipping affairs, respectively.

For nearly fifteen years, member states of ICAO have been toiling over how to reduce carbon pollution from the aviation sector. To date, ICAO has yet to design or implement a measure to curb such emissions and shows no sign of progress in the near future.  (It’s worth noting that the UNFCCC negotiations on international transport don’t aim to create an emissions reduction mechanism. Rather, countries here in Durban are trying to agree on a decision that would encourage ICAO and IMO to hasten their work to reduce emissions from their respective sectors.)

Given this history, the side event at the climate negotiations was stunning: ICAO spent nearly all its 45 minute event lauding its recent initiatives to reduce emissions, calling them “miraculous.”

So what ICAO climate initiatives are worthy of such praise? None.

ICAO’s current efforts to reduce emissions from aviation amount to a do-nothing plan: global inspirational goals to improve fuel efficiency and achieve carbon neutral growth from 2020.

What exactly does this mean? It means:

  1. Neither countries nor carriers have any legal requirements to reduce their total emissions; and
  2. Aviation emissions can grow unfettered until 2020, at which point emissions could plateau if countries voluntarily take actions to mitigate emissions growth.

What’s next?

Here at the climate negotiations in Durban, countries have the opportunity to send a clear message that ICAO must expedite a process to achieve net emissions reductions from the aviation sector. ICAO member states don’t get another decade to dillydally on the issue. They must act now.

Considering ICAO’s lack of progress in the past decade, it’s hard to believe that a clear signal from the UNFCCC will do much to catalyze progress in that forum.

But in the interim, as ICAO gets its act together, countries should continue to move ahead with national policies to reduce emissions from aviation. The European Union’s Aviation Directive provides a great model for such action—as of January 1, 2012 airlines using EU airports will be held accountable for their carbon pollution.

While the EU aviation directive will achieve emissions reduction in the near-term, and represents a positive step toward a global policy to reduce emissions from aviation, some countries—including the United States—and some airlines are trying to derail the EU law, decrying it as a “unilateral” measure, and “the wrong way to go about the right objective.” In fact, the U.S. is scheduled to raise its concerns with the EU in a bilateral meeting tomorrow in Washington, DC. EDF Attorney, Pamela Campos will be present at the negotiations, representing US NGOs. Stay tuned…

Posted in Aviation, Durban (COP-17) / 2 Responses

European law to curb aviation pollution is legal, says preliminary court opinion

Very early this morning, the European Court of Justice issued a comprehensive, detailed preliminary opinion stating that the EU’s pioneering law to curb aviation pollution is consistent with international law. EDF and its co-intervenors in the case issued the following joint press release: (I’ve posted it here, as our web team won’t be awake for a few hours.)



European Court’s Preliminary Opinion Supports Legality of EU Law That Curbs Aviation Pollution

Advocate General’s opinion bolsters position of Europe and intervening environmental groups in case on EU aviation emissions trading system (ETS)

(Brussels/ London/ Washington – October 6, 2011) A transatlantic coalition of environmental groups applauded today’s European Court of Justice’s Advocate General’s preliminary opinion, which supports Europe’s right to tackle carbon emissions from airlines that use its airports. The coalition said the preliminary opinion was very encouraging.  The Court is expected to hand down its final opinion in early 2012.

In a thorough and comprehensive opinion, addressing all issues referred to the Court, the Advocate General called the airlines’ challenges “unconvincing”, “untenable”, “erroneous” and based on a “highly superficial reading” of the Aviation Directive.

The opinion thoroughly dismisses the airlines’ argument that the EU Law violates sovereignty, pointing out that it is “by no means unusual for a State or an international organisation also to take into account in the exercise of its sovereignty circumstances that occur or have occurred outside its territorial jurisdiction.”

Commenting on the argument that Europe should wait for a global solution, the opinion states “The EU institutions could not reasonably be required to give the ICAO bodies unlimited time in which to develop a multilateral solution.”

The EU Aviation Directive, the world’s only mandatory program to address emissions from aviation, will take effect in January 2012. 

“This is an encouraging development.  We are pleased that the Advocate General found our arguments, and those of the European Union and its member states, persuasive, and we look forward to receiving the Court’s final opinion,” said the coalition.

The coalition’s six participants include three U.S.-based groups (Center for Biological Diversity, Earthjustice, and Environmental Defense Fund) and three European groups (Aviation Environment Federation, Transport & Environment, and WWF-UK). All six groups are intervenor-defendants in the litigation.

The opinion of the Advocate General, an esteemed attorney appointed to the ECJ to provide an independent, unbiased opinion to the Court, will now be considered by the 13 members of the ECJ’s “Grand Chamber” who heard oral arguments on July 5, 2011.  The judges begin their deliberations upon receiving the Advocate General’s opinion.  The opinion does not bind in any way the final decision of the Court.

Airlines have argued that the EU law is discriminatory in some way, but the Advocate General states clearly:

“If the EU legislature had excluded airlines holding the nationality of a third country from the EU emissions trading scheme, those airlines would have obtained an unjustified competitive advantage over their European competitors. Such a course of action would not have been compatible with the principle of fair and equal opportunity laid down in Article 2 of the Open Skies Agreement and which also underpins Directive 2008/101 itself.”

Finally, the opinion concludes that the Aviation Directive is not a charge or a tax, noting that it “would be unusual, to put it mildly, to describe as a charge or tax the purchase price paid for an emission allowance, which is based on supply and demand according to free market forces.”

The European Court frequently follows the recommendations of Advocates General.


Europe’s Aviation Directive, which includes aviation emissions within the European Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) from 1 January 2012, is a pioneering law that holds airlines accountable for their emissions associated with their commercial flights that land at or take off from EU airports.  Aviation is one of the fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions, rising 3 to 4% per year.  Until now, the sector has escaped regulations that would require emissions reductions. 

Three U.S. airlines — United/Continental and American — and their trade association, Air Transport Association of America (ATA), challenged the legality of the aviation emissions trading system, as applied to non-EU airlines. 



Tim Johnson, Director of the Aviation Environment Federation said:

“The Advocate General’s report is a positive step towards ensuring that airlines operating from European airports will become accountable for their carbon emissions from 1 January 2012 as the world’s first regional initiative to limit greenhouse gas emissions from the aviation sector comes into effect.”

Sarah Burt, Staff Attorney at Earthjustice said:

“In the absence of an effective global measure for reigning in greenhouse gases from aviation, the EU law is a necessary step to address this significant and rapidly expanding source of pollution.  We are pleased that the Advocate General’s opinion confirms the legality of this important action.” 

Annie Petsonk, International Counsel at Environmental Defense Fund said:

“Airlines operate in a global market, and the reality is that those markets will be increasingly carbon-constrained. It’s time for the U.S. airlines to provide leadership and demonstrate that we can compete in the carbon-limited markets of the 21st century.  No lawsuit will stop climate change or its effects, so it’s time to move forward and implement the solutions already available: Europe’s Aviation Directive.”

Bill Hemmings, Programme Manager of Transport & Environment said:

“The international community, aided and abetted by the airlines, has failed to make any progress on cutting aviation emissions in fourteen years despite innumerable meetings and negotiating sessions.  So the airlines cannot have been serious when they called for international action instead of European leadership.  That so many major airlines jumped on the bandwagon of criticizing the EU-ETS, an extremely modest measure equivalent to one cent a litre on (untaxed) kerosene, was just opportunistic and irresponsible.  The aviation industry should now start tackling climate change with engineers, not lawyers.”

Keith Allott, Head of Climate Change at WWF-UK said:

We are pleased that this advice will send a message that the ETS is entirely consistent with international law. In the absence of a global deal, ETS is a positive first step towards bringing runaway aviation emissions under control.  To further enhance mitigation and adaptation, EU member states should dedicate revenues from this measure to climate action, especially in developing countries.”



Tim Johnson, Aviation Environment Federation (UK)

+44 (0) 7710 381742, tim@aef.org.uk

Sarah Burt, Earthjustice (USA)

+1-510-599-8573, sburt@earthjustice.org

Jennifer Andreassen, Environmental Defense Fund (USA)

+1-202-572-3387, jandreassen@edf.org

Bill Hemmings, Transport & Environment (Brussels)

+32 (0) 487 582706, bill.hemmings@transportenvironment.org

George Smeeton, WWF-UK (UK)

+44 (0)1483 412 388, Mob: +44 (0)7917 052 948, GSmeeton@wwf.org.uk



Posted in Aviation, News / 10 Responses

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.

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.

Posted in Aviation, News / 2 Responses