The European Commission calculated years ago that someone flying from London to New York and return generates roughly the same level of CO2 emissions as the average person in the EU does by heating their home for a whole year. And air traffic is supposed to double by 2035…

This is why the European Union decided as early as 2008 that, as part of its effort to address climate change, it would extend its so called EU emissions trading system (“ETS”) to the aviation sector.[1] By 2012, in principle, emissions from all flights from, to and within the European Economic Area (EEA) – the 28 EU Member States, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway – should have been included in the EU ETS system.

But this proposal was very negatively received by third countries. Airlines for America (A4A) together with several American air carriers engaged in legal disputes against the EU Directive, arguing that it broke the EU-US open sky agreement, the Kyoto Protocol, and the International Civil Aviation Convention. After their case was lost in the European Court of Justice, a coalition of countries led by the United States, China, Russia, India, Japan, and others launched a major political offensive against the unilateral character of the EU scheme. Their major argument was that the Directive, by imposing obligations on third countries, went against the principle of sovereignty. They pleaded that a satisfactory solution could only come through a global market based scheme, as it was discussed (but with not much success at the time) in the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Assembly .

As a result of these pressures – which included retaliation threats targeting Airbus sales – the EU renounced, provisionally, imposing its system to extra-EU flights. ETS requirements for flights to and from non-European countries were ‘suspended’ until the end of 2016, in order to give time to ICAO to develop a global ‘market-based measure’ (MBM) scheme. ICAO’s Assembly in 2013 decided in principle that a mechanism would be agreed by 2016 and applied by 2020. In the meantime, only flights within the EEA continued to be covered by the ETS system, with some exemptions for operators with low emissions.

ICAO has respected its self-imposed deadline: In its 39th session, on October 6th 2016 in Montreal, an agreement was reached on a ‘Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA). According to the scheme, CO2 emissions for international aviation would be capped at the level of average emissions between 2019 and 2020, with participants offsetting any increases; the offsetting obligation would apply to all international flights between States that are part of CORSIA. In order to offset its emissions, an airline operator would have to buy ‘Emission Units’ originating from various emission reduction programs and projects across the globe. The specific criteria for these ‘Emission Units’ will be developed by ICAO in the next two years.

But, in order to ensure broad support, negotiating States concluded substantive compromises on the timeline of implementation, exemptions to the agreement, and the distribution of offsetting requirements among airline carriers.[2]  The European Union fought to reduce these exceptions or delays to a minimum but with limited success. It decided, anyway, in the end, to accept the final agreement.
Continue Reading The EU reaction to ICAO ’s Agreement on Aviation Emissions