Change of direction promised by US as talks start in Washington of countries opposed to international aviation inclusion in EU ETS
Tue 31 July 2012 – The third meeting of the ‘coalition of the unwilling’ – countries opposed to the inclusion of the airlines into the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) – starts today in Washington DC with a pledge by a senior US Administration official that the tone will different on this occasion. Speaking to reporters yesterday, he said the purpose would be to try to explore whether there might be a basis for a global solution on aviation greenhouse gas emissions. He said an aspirational goal had been agreed at ICAO in 2010 of limiting the growth of emissions from 2020 and should a global solution be found, the EU would have to set aside its scheme in the near term. The two-day meeting is expected to be attended by 16 so far unnamed countries, plus the United States, down from the 26 that attended the first meeting in Delhi last September. The EU’s Climate Commissioner, Connie Hedegaard, challenged the countries to come up with concrete proposals for a substantial reduction in aviation emissions. Meanwhile, a US Senate hearing today will decide the next step in progress of a bill to prohibit US carriers from participating in the EU ETS.
The Administration official said all the countries participating in the meeting, to be held at the Department of Transportation, were opposed to the EU’s application of its ETS to foreign carriers on both policy and legal grounds, with the previous meetings in Moscow and Delhi asserting that opposition.
“The purpose of this meeting is different,” he said in a press conference call. “I would not regard this as a third in the line of the Moscow and Delhi meetings. The purpose of this meeting is really to try to explore whether there might be a basis for a global solution to addressing greenhouse gas emissions from aviation and a global solution that would include the EU and would set aside the ETS as applied to foreign carriers.”
He said the discussions would be informal, adding: “We don’t anticipate any deliverable per se coming out of the meeting but we do anticipate having ... an exploratory discussion to see if we can get on a path that could lead to a global solution that would then be considered in ICAO, which is the multilateral body that properly deals with international aviation, and go from there.”
Asked whether the United States would propose a cap on airline emissions from 2005 levels starting in 2020, the official responded: “I wouldn’t say exactly that. If you go back to the last ICAO Assembly resolution in 2010, there was an agreement to an aspirational goal of trying to limit emissions, I think starting in 2020, at 2020 levels. And I would expect goals of that sort will be part of the conversation we have in our meeting.
“That should not be taken to mean that we accept the ETS until 2020 and then it changes. That’s completely not on the cards.”
A global deal would be, by definition, include the EU, he said. “Such a solution would lead to the setting aside in the near term, not down the road, of the application of the ETS.”
He said potential market measures were under discussion at a technical expert level within ICAO but there was far from agreement on what type of measure and how countries or regions might use them. “It is not at all clear whether there will be buy-in by countries at a higher level.”
On the eve of the meeting, an open letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood has been sent from a coalition of 19 aviation, travel, commerce and trade union organisations. The letter asks the US government to restate its opposition to, and continuing plans for overturning, the application of the EU ETS to international aviation.
“It has been seven months since US airlines and aircraft operators became subject to the scheme’s emissions allowances purchase, trading and surrender obligations,” said the letter. “It has been eight months since you sent a firm letter to EU officials urging them to halt or suspend application of the ETS. As each day goes by without an EU act to halt or suspend the ETS, the harm to US airlines and aircraft operators and the threat to US sovereignty grow while the US government’s credibility is weakened.”
The organisations urged the Administration to file an Article 84 Chicago Convention action “and to take all other action necessary to overturn this wrongful scheme.” This included support for the bipartisan bills before Congress to prohibit US carriers from participating in the EU ETS.
Annie Petsonk of US NGO Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) said yesterday the US airlines’ and their trade association’s real reason for the Article 84 push was “to tie up ICAO so deeply in the ponderous process that it will never have time to work on a serious agreement on climate change.”
She added the EU ETS prohibition legislation that the airlines were lobbying Congress to pass, was almost unprecedented in US 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 [to cover EU ETS costs] is the equivalent of a massive human rights violation. Just keep in mind airlines charge several times that much for a checked bag.”
Petsonk said the aspirational goals of ICAO Assembly 2010 resolution were “a reasonable place to start” the Washington discussions but pointed out that the resolution itself pointed out they were not enough to stabilise and then reduce aviation’s climate impact and that more ambitious measures would be required.
“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?” she asked. “Or are the talks backtracking to the industry’s lowest common denominator?”
A European Commission spokesperson said there would be no official comment on the meeting before it took place beyond Connie Hedegaard’s tweet yesterday that said: “The EU is eagerly waiting for countries meeting in DC to come up with CONCRETE proposals for SUBSTANTIAL aviation emissions reductions.”
By coincidence, the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation is due to hold a markup hearing later today to debate possible amendments of the proposed EU ETS Prohibition legislation and then decide whether to pass it out of the committee. This is seen as an important next step in the process before the Senate takes a full vote.
Last month, the committee held a full hearing on the proposed EU ETS prohibition legislation to hear testimony from witnesses that included Ray LaHood, Annie Petsonk, Nancy Young of A4A and Jose Delbeke, Director-General of the European Commission’s climate directorate (see article).