Just a few weeks ago, it was uncertain whether the almost 200 nations gathered in Montreal at the ICAO Assembly could achieve what has often seemed impossible: a common agreement on how to approach aviation carbon emissions offsets.
The resulting aviation emissions market-based measures (MBM) scheme accord was, therefore, rightly applauded as a landmark achievement. ICAO described it as “dramatic” and “an historic milestone.”
Industry organizations worldwide concurred, including IATA, A4A, AAPA and ALTA. Most vocal of all was the European Commission, which welcomed the agreement as good news for aviation, the traveling public and the planet. The EC was also keen to praise itself as a key motivator behind the accord, first plowing ahead with its European Union emissions trading scheme (EU ETS) to show it was serious about leading the way on tackling aviation emissions, and then providing an hiatus on the non-European part of that tax to allow time for international dialogue and agreement to be achieved via the industry’s preferred and internationally-recognized representative body, ICAO.
This editor agreed that the EC deserved credit for pushing the emissions issue to the fore, while simultaneously providing the breathing space it needed for more level-headed discussions.
And yet, despite all that was achieved in Montreal, the EC promptly made an astonishing turnaround and gave the accord – and the entire commercial aviation community – a good, hard poke in the eye by proposing to extend EU ETS to the portion of all international flights that occurs within European Union airspace from Jan. 1.
The only serious question to be asked of the EC’s small-minded proposal is why and why now?
The proposal may not technically contravene the ICAO MBM accord, but there is no question that it goes against the spirit of the agreement; a spirit of consensus that required compromise from all those represented in Montreal.
But this poke is worse than mean-spirited; it has potential to do great harm and undo the extremely hard-earned work that the ICAO agreement signifies. At the least, it will surely incense those non-Europeans who railed against the original premise that EU ETS should apply to all international flights. It could even trigger a new set of trade war threats.
But the worst outcome is the potential damage that merely brandishing the possibility of an extended EU ETS before the ICAO-led MBM can be established might do to that agreement. Instead of being able to focus with clear heads and a clean slate on the nuts and bolts of MBM implementation – a tough enough task – negotiations will undoubtedly be clouded by the EC proposal and how to retaliate.
That would be a dangerously unconstructive setting for the establishment of a global aviation MBM scheme. And ironically, it could also further delay the achievement of the very goal that Europe has claimed all along to be championing – a fair and responsible way to ensure that greenhouse gas emissions are reduced.
EC climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard should immediately withdraw this harmful proposal, acknowledge that the aviation industry and ICAO did what was asked of them, and allow those who signed up for a global MBM to get on with their implementation work without the obstruction of politics.