ETS halted for flights outside EU

13th November 2012

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The inclusion of flights to and from the EU in the emissions trading scheme (EU ETS) has been suspended by the European Commission following progress in negotiations for an international system to tackle aviation emissions

European authorities have agreed to “stop the clock” on the ETS for flights outside the EU for 12 months after a meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) council agreed that a single global market-based mechanism was needed to cap emissions.

The scope of the ETS was expanded from January to include the aviation sector, meaning that airlines have to report the amount of emissions generated by their operations, and surrender the equivalent number of ETS allowances.

Controversially, the system includes flights that originate or land outside the EU, as well as flights within the bloc, leading to protests from airlines based in the US, Russia and China, for example.

According to the EU’s commissioner for climate action, Connie Hedegaard, it was this reaction that has helped to further ICAO negotiations to develop a global system.

"Nobody wants an international framework tackling CO2 emissions from aviation more than we do. Our regulatory scheme was adopted after having waited many years for ICAO to progress. Now it seems that because of some countries’ dislike of our scheme many countries are prepared to move in ICAO,” she said.

Hedegaard hailed the ICAO’s meeting as long-awaited progress and said that to “create a positive atmosphere” for the negotiations she had recommended suspending the ETS until after the ICAO’s assembly in autumn 2013.

“Finally we have a chance to get an international regulation on emissions from aviation. This is a long sought for opportunity that we must use,” she said.

However, Hedegaard also made it clear that the ETS rules would continue to apply to all flights within EU borders, and if the ICAO negotiations fail next year then the scheme would be automatically reinstated.

The commission’s decision was welcomed by the UK’s energy secretary, Ed Davey, who said: “It is right that the ICAO is given more time to make progress on reaching a global deal.”

Hedegaard followed her announcement on the suspension of aviation’s inclusion in the ETS by confirming that the commission proposes to postpone the auction of some 900 milllion allowances during the next phase of the scheme in a bid to tackle the problem of surplus allowances undermining the price of carbon. The commission is due to publish a report on the EU carbon market and its plans on Wednesday (14 November).

However, MEPs have had a mixed response to the concept of “backloading” allowances. "Backloading the release of allowances will only buy time. We need to take account of all the concerns and doubts that have been raised", said Matthias Groote, chair of the European parliament’s committee on the environment, public health and food safety.

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