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UN airline emissions pact gets cold welcome from EU lawmakers

airline emissions

EU officials say their system is more ambitious than the UN’s airline emissions reductions plan. Shutterstock photo.

EU has own airline emissions scheme for internal flights

 By Julia Fioretti

BRUSSELS, Oct 7 (Reuters) – European Union lawmakers decided to keep the bloc’s own airline emissions trading scheme for intra-European flights after the United Nations agreed a deal to curb aviation pollution but left open a decision on eventually including international flights.

EU lawmakers say the European system is more ambitious and would actually reduce aviation pollution, as opposed to merely capping it at 2020 levels.

The EU ETS is a “cap and trade” system in which emissions are capped at a certain level. The ICAO system allows emissions to increase without limit as long as they are compensated for by offsets.

In the first-ever global agreement to address emissions from a single industry, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) approved a carbon offsetting system that will require airlines to buy carbon credits from designated environmental projects around the world to offset growth in emissions.

But members of the European Parliament criticised its voluntary first phase and commitment tocarbon neutral growth as opposed to emissions reduction.

“This is historic, but unambitious,” said German MEP Peter Liese, from the centre-right group – the largest – in the Brussels legislature.

Before the ICAO assembly, EU lawmakers passed a resolution saying intra-European flights would still be covered by the EU emissions trading scheme.

Two EU diplomats said the bloc was unlikely to dismantle its internal emissions trading scheme even after the ICAO deal comes into effect, with one calling it a ‘red line’.”

Industry and several countries have backed the ICAO deal as the only global emissions scheme for international aviation. But as a concession to Europe, the deal’s text was drafted in a way that would allow the EU to keep its existing scheme for internal flights, said two sources familiar with the matter.

The EU now has to decide whether to extend an exemption for international flights from its emissions scheme beyond next year – an issue that almost sparked a trade war ahead of the 2013 ICAO assembly.

“The next five or six months will be important,” said Jens Nilsson, an MEP from the centre-left grouping in the European Parliament. “There will have to be a decision on the best way to act in Europe with this global deal in place.”

The EU had initially ordered foreign airlines to buy credits under its ETS scheme but was forced to backtrack when China and other countries said that violated their sovereignty.

It agreed not to penalise foreign carriers that did not buy credits until the end of 2016 to give ICAO time to craft a global deal.

The European Commission, the EU executive, said it would soon present a report on the future of the EU ETS in view of the ICAO deal.

The system will be voluntary from 2021 to 2026 and mandatory from 2027 for states with larger aviation industries. Over 80 per cent of aviation emissions above 2020 levels will be offset by the scheme in the first phase, with 65 countries taking part.

“Of course this ICAO deal is not enough to really decarbonise aviation,” said EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc at a news conference on Friday. But “without this deal, there is no other progress.”

“We will now build on it,” she added.

(Additional reporting by Allison Lampert in MONTREAL and Susanna Twidale in LONDON; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)

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