EU ETS aviation emissions

Beginning of the end for aviation’s VIP climate treatment?

The European Commission’s proposal to continue exempting flights to and from Europe from its flagship emissions trading scheme (ETS) was an overreaction, writes Andrew Murphy.

Andrew Murphy is aviation manager at Transport & Environment (T&E), a sustainable transport NGO.

Climate action is easier when everyone pitches in. The alternative, to grant opt outs or special privileges, just burdens the load for everyone else. But this is precisely the problem we face with aviation and climate change, though MEPs have a chance to start changing this in a vote in September.

Aviation has always enjoyed special treatment. Despite its considerable and growing climate impact, the sector remains exempt from fuel taxation, exempt from VAT, most of its emissions are exempt from EU ETS or any other form of climate regulation. Moreover, the European Commission continues to champion its unbridled expansion, with scant regard for the climate impact. In fact it was the EU’s role in liberalising the sector, without introducing measures to compensate for its climate impact, that has caused its emissions to grow. Aviation emissions have doubled since 1990, and now account for 4.5% of total European emissions. And those emissions are expected to grow and grow unless decisive action is taken.

With such growth, and with Europe as a climate leader, you would expect that the EU would be pushing for the strongest possible action. However in February this year the Commission proposed to continue exempting flights to and from Europe (equal to 70% of all Europe’s aviation emissions) from its flagship emissions trading scheme (ETS), this time indefinitely. They did this in response to the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) deciding last October on the broad outlines of an offsetting mechanism for some of the emissions from the sector.

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EU ETS aviation emissions