Category Archives: Aviation

Will Washington meeting on aviation pollution be undermined by U.S. airlines?

UPDATE | 9 p.m.

The U.S. State Department has released a transcript of a news conference held today during which a senior administration official says the starting point for this week's talks will be the International Civil Aviation Organization's (ICAO) 2010 resolution. In that resolution, countries set an “aspirational goal” of improving efficiency 2 percent per year through 2020, and then offsetting emissions above 2020 levels starting in 2021 (that’s what their phrase “carbon neutral growth” from 2020 means).

Above: the emissions-reductions proposal of the International Air Transport Association (green), and business-as-usual emissions (red).

We think that’s a reasonable place to start, as long as the talks move forward, not backtrack.  The 2010 ICAO resolution itself recognizes the proposal is not enough. It says:

the aspirational goal of 2 per cent annual fuel efficiency improvement is unlikely to deliver the level of reduction necessary to stabilize and then reduce aviation’s absolute emissions contribution to climate change, and that goals of more ambition will need to be considered to deliver a sustainable path for aviation.

The industry’s proposal – the green line to the right – is weaker than the ICAO resolution, and allows emissions to continue to grow.

The yardstick we’ll be using to measure any progress in the meeting over the next two days is: are countries speaking in terms of reducing aviation’s total emissions, with binding targets?

Or are the talks backtracking to the industry’s lowest common denominator?


U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern will be in the hot seat tomorrow — in more ways than one.

U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Envoy Todd Stern is hosting a meeting in Washington of 17 countries to discuss emissions from international aviation.

Airlines are the world's seventh largest planetary polluter.

Everyone from the aviation industry to governments to environmental groups says that the best way to deal with pollution from airplanes is through the Montreal-based International Civil Aviation Organization, or ICAO. (It’s pronounced "eye-kay-oh" or "ih-cow" … you say tomayto, I say tomahto…)

ICAO was tasked by world governments way back in 1997 to come up with a solution to this problem. Unfortunately, they’ve been dithering about it since your teenager was a toddler.

Meanwhile, in 2003, Europe suffered a climate catastrophe — a massive heat wave that killed more than 40,000 people.

Europe got serious about climate security after the 2003 heat wave. It enacted a law putting most of its industry under emissions caps.

Aviation basically got a ten-year grace period from that cap. But this year, for the first time, all planes landing or taking off from European airports will have to reduce their climate pollution. Those that don’t comply will face tough sanctions.

The law is causing a lot of complaining from the U.S.-based airlines, including United, American, and Delta.

To hear them squawk, you'd think Europe's aviation law meant “The End Is Nigh.”

But let's take a deep breath here.

The EU law only requires airlines to cut their pollution by 5 percent.

Economists commissioned by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to assess the impact on U.S. airlines found that the EU law might … I repeat, mightcost as much as $6 on a roundtrip ticket from the U.S. to Europe.

That's the same as the cost of a beer on a Delta or United flight.

Oh, and the economists said "might" because they found that — if the airlines met the EU law by flying more efficiently — they could actually make money from it.

So why is this so controversial?

Because … while Stern's meeting is aimed at coming up with new ideas for how ICAO can move forward, and while the EU's law is actually nudging ICAO in that direction … the U.S. airlines have other ideas.

Aviation is the world's seventh largest polluter , but U.S. airlines are still trying to get out of complying with Europe's anti-pollution law. (Sources:  International Civil Aviation Organization, International Energy Agency, United Nations Environment Programme)

United, American, Delta and their trade association are pressing to have the meeting focus on how to bring legal action against the EU, rather than focus on ways to make progress in ICAO. Specifically, they’re pushing for agreement to bring legal action under Article 84 of ICAO's governing treaty.

Never mind that the airlines don't have much of a wing to fly on for legal action. (They already brought and lost such a case in European courts.)

Never mind that Article 84 cases are cumbersome, time-consuming procedures that drag on for years and almost never reach a conclusion.

The airlines' real game is to tie ICAO up so deeply in the ponderous Article 84 process that it will never have time to work on a serious agreement on climate change.

The airlines are also lobbying hard for Congress to pass legislation barring U.S. airlines from obeying the EU's law.

Legislation like that is almost unprecedented in U.S. history. Last time we saw legislation blocking American companies from obeying the laws of the countries in which they do business was when Congress barred American firms from suborning apartheid in South Africa.

So the airlines are acting as if a $6 ticket surcharge is the equivalent of a massive human rights violation. (Just keep in mind airlines generally charge several times that much for a checked bag.)

That's what makes Stern's meeting this week so hot.

Washington didn't even invite any European countries to the table. Maybe it's because the airlines fear that with Europeans in the room, countries might actually start talking seriously about how to reach an agreement in ICAO that's as effective in cutting pollution as the EU law. (The EU has already said it will waive its law when — or if — ICAO does reach such an agreement.)

We're hoping the talks will illuminate some new paths forward. But against the backdrop of all the wacky weather Washington's had lately, the last thing we need here right now is “more heat than light.”

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Analysis: Numerous national aviation measures reach beyond sovereign airspace

updated June 6  |  By Adam Peltz, Legal Fellow, and Annie Petsonk, International Counsel

Europe’s Aviation Directive is a pioneering law that holds airlines accountable for the global warming pollution of all flights that land at or take off from European Union (EU) airports. The EU aviation law would, by 2020, cut carbon pollution by an amount equivalent to taking 30 million cars off the road each year.

However, industry players have fought the law’s implementation. They’ve objected to the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) applying to international aviation outside of European airspace.

To argue that a nation's authority to address the emissions of a flight landing in or taking off from its airports extends only to its sovereign airspace ignores the fact that the flight only occurs because travelers wish to fly to or from that country. If the flight never took off to go to that country, then none of the emissions would occur. But all the emissions from the flight occur precisely because the flight is going to that country.

Further, the airspace-based methodology for accounting for aviation emissions was rejected by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) years ago, a decision effectively ratified by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Executive Committee when it directed that ICAO’s work be consistent with the UNFCCC.

The airspace approach was rejected because it would lead to perverse results. For one, the emissions of a flight would "belong" to a nation simply because the plane had transited that nation's airspace, even though the flight had never landed in the country. Also, pollution from flights occurring in airspace over the high seas would be "orphan emissions," the responsibility of no country.

But all of that aside, the sovereignty complaint does not ring true. Many countries charge some sort of arrival or departure tax (or both, like in the U.S.) on flights to and from their territories. Those charges apply to the entire flight, not just the portion in the country’s sovereign airspace. In fact, many of these charges – including those of the UK, Germany and India – are proportional to the length of the flight (including flight length outside the territory of the country taking the measure), in much the same way that the EU ETS accounts for emissions proportional to the length of the flight.

Here are some countries that levy charges beyond their sovereign airspace:

These taxes affect the entire length of an international flight, both inside and outside of the country’s sovereign airspace: if you don’t pay the U.S. international arrival tax of $16.70, you simply can’t take off from a foreign airport to come to the U.S.

From a practical standpoint, the estimated per-ticket cost of compliance with the EU ETS of less than $3 for a flight from New York to London is substantially less than the arrival and departure fees shown above, in some cases by an order of magnitude or more. As we’ve discussed, the cost of EU ETS compliance is trivial compared to the cost of an international plane ticket and airlines potentially can profit.

Stakeholders concerned about sovereignty issues should take note: taxes and fees that apply to the portions of flights outside a nation’s sovereign airspace are common practice among governments (and most of those taxes and fees – including taxes imposed by the United States on travelers outside the U.S. – are substantially higher than best estimates for the cost of EU ETS compliance.)

The EU ETS, a modest measure that uses proven policy tools for cutting emissions at least cost, is no more an intrusion into U.S. sovereignty than these taxes are into other nations’ sovereignty.

Chart Sources:

Australian Customs and Border Protection Service

Cabinet of Germany

India Airports Economic Regulatory Authority

UK Revenue & Customs

US Federal Aviation Administration

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Effort in Moscow to coordinate attack on EU aviation emissions law fizzles

Countries have failed in Moscow to agree on any joint moves against the European Union's pioneering law to curb emissions from aviation at a two-day meeting that ended there yesterday.

The declaration coming out of the Moscow meeting, which was reportedly attended by representatives of countries and the aviation industry, states the 23 signing countries will merely "consider" taking actions against Europe for its pioneering law to curb emissions from aviation. EDF's Annie Petsonk said "Today's failure to reach agreement on a coordinated attack indicates cooler heads may have prevailed." (Thanks and photo credit to Flickr user Aleksander Markin)

The meeting, which was preceded by great deal of hype about 26 countries' supposedly working toward a "basket of countermeasures" against Europe, produced a joint declaration signed by 23 countries that included a "Basket of ACTIONS/ MEASURES."

However,  yesterday's Joint declaration of the Moscow meeting on inclusion of international civil aviation in the Eu-ETS only says countries will "consider taking actions/ measures" against the EU. No single coordinated attack emerged from the meeting, and Russia's Deputy Transportation Minister Valery Okulov said in a press conference that countries themselves "will choose the most effective and reliable measures that will help to cancel or postpone the implementation of the EU ETS (Emissions Trading System)."

In EDF's statement following the meeting, Annie Petsonk, EDF's International Counsel said:

The airlines ginned up a laundry list of actions they wanted governments to take so that airlines don't have to comply with a reasonable law to cut global warming pollution.

Today's failure to reach agreement on a coordinated attack indicates cooler heads may have prevailed, and if so, they are to be commended.

This Moscow gathering was a follow-up to one that took place in India last September, where the U.S., Saudi Arabia and 23 other countries signed a statement that suggested opposition to the EU law, the world’s first program to reduce global warming pollution from aviation.

ICAO action to cut aviation pollution is critical

The first action/measure in Moscow's "Basket" is launching an "Article 84" case under the Chicago Convention on Civil Aviation — a formal protest against the EU law at the UN's International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

Countries, the aviation industry and environmentalists have all called for a global system to be developed through ICAO, but 14 years of negotiations has yielded nothing.

ICAO Secretary General Raymond Benjamin had warned weeks prior to the Moscow meeting that a decision by any nation to launch an Article 84 case would distract ICAO from designing and obtaining global agreement on effective, market-based measures to address aviation greenhouse gas emissions.

EDF thinks such constructive participation can help ICAO achieve an effective and durable outcome, which is the best path toward resolving the current dispute. Petsonk said:

Had an Article 84 case been launched, that surely would have called into question the seriousness of the claims of industry and some nations that they truly want a solution in ICAO.

Speaking of industry, the airline industry trade association International Air Transport Association (IATA) was reportedly present at the meeting. However, EDF knows of no “civil society” group invited to the Moscow meeting. Petsonk said in EDF's statement:

With such a limited invite list, the meeting didn’t present an opportunity for a balanced discussion. Civil society must be afforded equal opportunity to participate in ICAO’s work going forward. Such participation can help ICAO achieve an effective and durable outcome.

These countries have agreed to meet again later this year in Saudi Arabia.

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On eve of Moscow meeting, new calculations reveal U.S. airlines could profit from EU cap on aviation emissions

By Annie Petsonk, International Counsel, and Adam Peltz, Legal Fellow

Next week, more than two dozen countries, including the United States, are meeting in Moscow to discuss their opposition to Europe’s pioneering law to cut global warming pollution from aviation.

U.S. airlines have said the EU's law that curbs aviation emissions will cost them billions, but new calculations show they could actually make money from it. (Thanks and photo credit to Flickr user DosenPhoto.)

On the agenda for the Moscow meeting are a number of topics that have been lobbied for by the U.S. aviation industry, which has said complying with the EU law will be too expensive.

U.S. airlines have been complaining for years that complying with the EU law will cost them billions of dollars, but we’ve also seen a slew of studies that show the airlines could save money – and even profit – by participating in the system.

So we commissioned EDF’s economics team to run some numbers.

When our economists compared 1] airlines’ projected 2012 emissions (based on the 2010 data they submitted to the EU and the industry’s projected 3% annual emissions growth rate), 2] data on the free emissions allowances the EU is giving to the airlines, and 3] current prices (from Feb. 15) for emissions credits in the EU carbon market with 4] the recent $3-per-leg fare increase the airlines added last month, we found that airlines that comply with the law can actually make money.

Based on these data:

  • United stands to turn a profit of $0.73 to $2.36 per ticket, or in the range of $88,000 to $287,000 a year on its flights from Washington, D.C. (Dulles) to Brussels.
  • American Airlines stands to reap anywhere from $1.15 to $2.50 per passenger, or $700,000 to $1.2 million a year on its flights from New York (JFK) to London Heathrow.
  • Delta Air Lines, which was the first carrier to impose a surcharge, could profit between $1.02 and $2.53 per ticket from Minneapolis, or $449,000 to $1.1 million annually on its Minneapolis to Amsterdam flight.

U.S. carriers aren't the only ones finding profit in the emissions cap; airlines around the world could be poised to profit, too:

  • Etihad Airways$3/ticket surcharge could net between $1.10 and $2.52 per passenger per flight* from Abu Dhabi to London.
  • AirAsia X's surcharge of $6.50 could produce a profit of $2.05 to $5.25 per passenger per flight* from Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) to Paris.
  • Aeroflot Russian Airlines, if it matched United’s $3 fare increase, could make between $2.26 and $2.69 per ticket* on a typical flight from Moscow to Berlin.

(*These airlines’ ticket sales numbers are not publicly available so we are unable to calculate their potential annual profits.)

It’s critical to remember the purpose of the EU's law is to cut pollution. The aviation sector is growing so rapidly that, if emissions from aviation were left unregulated, they would quadruple from 2005 levels by 2050; the EU law will cut 183 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually by 2020, equivalent to taking 30 million cars off the road every year.

The data show that airlines’ claims of suffering a disproportionate burden and punitive costs to meet the cap are wrong. Savvy companies will see the law not as the burden that it isn’t, but as the opportunity that it is, and we would hope the airlines direct any profits to technology that can help them further reduce their emissions and fly cleaner and greener.

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Why Europe’s climate program for airlines is not a tax

By Annie Petsonk, International Counsel, and Adam Peltz, Legal Fellow

As the European Union gets closer to implementing a law to control greenhouse gas emissions from aviation, U.S. airlines are stepping up their efforts to mischaracterize and undermine the program by calling it a “tax” instead of what it really is – a market-based cap on pollution that lets them find the best and cheapest way to reduce emissions.

Adding "winglets" and other structural modifications to planes can improve flight efficiency and help airlines comply with Europe's law to reduce emissions from the rapidly growing aviation sector. (Thanks and photo credit to Flickr user Bow's Photography.)

It’s no surprise. It’s the same tactic some in industry used to mischaracterize climate change legislation in the U.S. during the last Congress, and they’re doing it again to undermine Europe's efforts.

The aviation sector today emits about as much climate pollution as all of the United Kingdom, and that amount is projected to quadruple by 2050. There will be a cost to reducing those emissions. But just because something has a cost, that does not make it a tax.

  • The EU law puts a quantity limit, or cap, on the total amount of climate pollution of all flights landing at or taking off from EU airports. Every company whose planes land at or take off from airports in Europe has to ensure that at the end of each year, the amount of pollution of its planes is less than the amount of its cap. It's that simple.
  • The EU could have slapped a tax on air travel in order to drive up the price and therefore reduce demand for air travel as a means of cutting down aviation pollution. But this law doesn't do that.
  • The EU could have required the airlines to install particular pollution control technologies. But the law doesn't do that either.

Importantly, the EU law also gives airlines very broad flexibility to decide how to meet their caps.  Airlines have wide latitude to choose among many competing strategies, and the competition among the strategies to deliver the most cost-effective emissions reductions help drive down the costs of all of them.

To meet their caps, airlines can make practical changes in their operations, such as:

  • Using gradual "continuous ascent" and "continuous descent", which saves a lot of fuel, instead of today's steep, fuel-guzzling climb-ups and climb-downs.
  • Using climate-friendlier fuels like sustainably produced biofuels.
  • Putting modern, high-efficiency engines on existing planes.
  • Adding "winglets" and other structural modifications to planes to improve flight efficiency.
  • Buying or leasing new, more fuel-efficient planes.
  • Purchasing pollution credits from a wide array of projects in different countries that reduce emissions outside the aviation sector, or purchasing emissions allowances from the EU.

Why do the airlines want the EU law called a tax? Because they don't like the law, and they want to argue that they shouldn't be subject to more taxes. It's inaccurate and wrong for the airlines to label the program as a tax on aviation emissions.

The EU chose a cap, rather than a tax, as the most efficient and cost-effective way to reduce aviation emissions. Don’t let the airlines fool you: the EU Aviation Directive is a cap, not a tax.

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Europe’s law to reduce emissions from aviation takes off

The first week of 2012 was a busy one for developments in the European Union's law requiring airlines to cut their global warming pollution.

On Jan. 1, Europe’s “Aviation Directive” took effect.  The law holds all flights using EU airports accountable for their pollution and requires the airlines to make modest cuts in their carbon emissions. (Remember that last month, after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood sent a letter to the European Commission saying the U.S. might retaliate against the law, the EU's highest court upheld the law against a challenge by United-Continental and American Airlines and their trade association.)

Obama administration weighs its options

Last week some officials from the Obama administration alluded to retaliatory measures but declined to give specifics on what the U.S. will do next. These unnamed U.S. officials told Reuters, in a Jan. 6 story:

We are contemplating a wide range of possible steps that we could take … we haven’t decided how to move forward on any specific one.

Maybe these officials’ vagueness is because the administration is currently gathering data from U.S. and European airlines to determine whether EU law discriminates against US airlines. But maybe they are starting to realize that the legal case for retaliation is thinner than the snow that didn't blanket most of the US at Christmas.

Despite what Chinese airlines say, the EU law is an emissions cap, not a “tax”

Across the world, Chinese airlines announced on Jan. 4 they wouldn’t comply with the EU law, and promptly watched their stocks slide.

plane taking off from airport. Thanks and credit to

Airlines, as of Jan. 1, are now accountable for their pollution from flights to and from Europe. (Thanks and photo credit to Flickr user chanelcoco872.)

Too bad the Chinese airlines' trade association doesn’t understand the EU law, inaccurately referring to it in a Reuters interview as a “tax,” and missing – to the detriment of its members' shareholders and customers – what the law really is: an opportunity to fly more efficiently and make money.

I want to make this point perfectly clear: the EU law is a cap on emissions, not a tax.

With a typical carbon tax, the more companies pollute, the more they pay. But under a cap-and-trade system like the EU’s that puts limits on pollution, airlines that cut emissions can comply without paying a nickel. In fact, companies that come up with better, deeper, faster ways of cutting pollution can actually make money. The EU’s top court recognizes that airlines participating in the EU law could “even make a profit” by cutting pollution and selling their surplus emissions allowances.  (See paragraphs 136-145, especially 142, of the Court’s decision.)

China's foreign ministry was reportedly more nuanced in its comments about the EU law than the airline trade association.  It didn't threaten non-compliance and it didn't threaten retaliation.  Instead a foreign ministry spokesperson told reporters:

We hope the EU can take careful precautions with a cautious and practical attitude, and regarding those aspects involving China, appropriately discuss and handle this matter.

Airlines are participating in EU law

Despite the discord, airlines have actually been preparing to comply with the EU law for months; they’ve all filed emissions data and applied for the law’s generous free allowances.

And with the start of 2012, the world’s smartest airlines are quietly lining up to participate, not litigate:

While German-based Lufthansa – the world’s second largest long-haul carrier, according to Reuters – has announced it will address the EU law by passing on the costs to its customers, it hasn’t clarified how much or what the money would be used for. Green groups and consumer groups will be watching to see whether and how much they and others like Emirates and Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific raise fares.

With his new focus on holding airlines to be more transparent about the fees and charges they add to fares, Secretary LaHood might want to make sure airlines tell customers how they use environmental surcharges – with airlines ideally limiting the fare increase to the modest true cost of complying with the EU law.  That would be a win for the flying public and the environment.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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…

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