EU postpones charges for airline emissions
The system had generated intense opposition among foreign governments, which accused Europe of violating the sovereignty of other countries.
The New York Times
BRUSSELS — European Union authorities said Monday that they would halt for one year the enforcement of a law charging airlines for greenhouse-gas emissions, potentially removing one of the most contentious issues clouding trade relations with China, India and the United States.
The system had generated intense opposition among foreign governments, which accused Europe of violating the sovereignty of other countries and unfairly raising the costs paid by airlines from developing countries by imposing its environmental standards on the rest of the world.
Europe had insisted that its law was necessary because the rest of world had dragged its feet for more than a decade on measures to control pollution from air traffic, which represents about 3 percent of global carbon-dioxide emissions and is growing much faster than efficiency gains are cutting those emissions.
Connie Hedegaard, the EU climate commissioner, said at a news conference Monday that she had asked the European Union’s 27 governments to “stop the clock” on the system for one year, relieving international airlines using European airports from making the first payments that were due under the law.
Hedegaard said her recommendation followed a meeting Friday at the International Civil Aviation Organization, an arm of the United Nations, at which member states decided to set up a policy group to agree on a global, market-based system for regulating emissions.
“In short, finally we have a chance to get an international regulation on emissions from aviation,” Hedegaard said. “This is progress.”
But she threatened to reimpose the rule if there was not sufficient progress in establishing a global system.
In reality, Hedegaard’s decision was a long-awaited retreat by the Europeans in the face of concerted international opposition, including refusals to participate in the system by airlines like China Eastern and Air India, and moves by U.S. lawmakers to bar their airlines from making payments.
A number of governments had threatened to review bilateral and “open skies” agreements on landing rights, market access and other matters and stop consideration of any new routes or capacity.
The European plane manufacturer Airbus had warned that Chinese carriers had suspended some aircraft orders to signal their dissatisfaction with the program.
But the re-election of President Obama last week made Hedegaard’s decision easier because Obama is expected to help in the push for a global system.
The European emissions law was approved by the 27 member nations of the EU in 2008, and the system went into force on Jan. 1 this year, requiring foreign airlines to comply with new registration and reporting procedures.
The system requires an airline landing or taking off in Europe to acquire permits corresponding to the amount of greenhouse gases emitted during the entire flight, regardless of where it originated or ended or the nationality of the airline.
Many airlines would have had to buy some carbon permits from traders and European governments to comply with a payment deadline of April 30.
Airlines faced fines of 100 euros, or $125, for each excess ton of carbon dioxide emissions that they failed to offset by buying permits. Repeated breaches could have led to a ban from European airports.
The initial payments were modest, but airlines were furious because they could face big bills as the number of permits that they needed to purchase was expected to rise in future years.
To halt the law, Hedegaard would need to prepare additional legislation to modify the current rules. EU officials said they had already met with governments and with members of the European Parliament to ensure easy passage.
The system would still apply within the EU for any flights between airports within the bloc. But there would no longer be charges borne by airlines serving major international routes such as Frankfurt-Beijing or London-New York.
Hedegaard said that would give the negotiators at the International Civil Aviation Organization the chance to reach a global agreement by October. But she warned that failure to reach such an agreement would mean the European system would be applied in full again after 2013.