The European Parliament’s Environmental Committee (ENVI) has agreed a proposal to keep the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) restricted to flights within the European Economic Area (EEA) until 2020, but after that international flights could be included.

The EU ETS was expanded to aviation in January 2012, but plans to include international flights triggered protests from third countries about the EU overstepping its sovereignty. Aviation went ahead and joined the EU ETS as planned, but it applied to intra-EEA flight only.

As part of this back-tracking, international flights were excluded until 2016 to give ICAO time to come up with its Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA). CORSIA was agreed in October 2016 and will enter effect on a voluntary basis from 2021.

The European Commission had proposed that the international flights exemption should continue as the industry transitions to CORSIA, although the number of aviation allowances from 2021 onward would be gradually reduced.

However, the ENVI committee has taken a different stance and backed a legislative proposal to time-limit the international flight exclusion until 2020, with 57 votes in favor, three against and six abstentions.

“Members of European Parliament (MEPs) want to limit the duration of the [international flight] exemption to Dec. 31, 2020,” the ENVI Committee said in a statement.

“From 2021 onward, the aviation sector should receive only half of its ETS allowances for free, say MEPs, against 85% today. The Environment Committee also wants EU member states to earmark the revenue generated by the auctioning of emissions allowances for climate change policies. The European Commission will have to report on the setting up of the Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)’s global scheme and if necessary, propose to amend, delete or extend the exemption.”

The proposal will be put to a full European Parliament vote during the September plenary session in Strasbourg, with a view to reaching an agreement with national governments and the European Commission by the end of the year.

“It is sensible that we extend the exemption for international flights to and from the EU until there is greater clarity on the ICAO scheme. However, unlike the European Commission, I believe this exemption must be time limited so that we can be sure that the CORSIA will deliver its objectives,” said lead MEP Julie Girling.

Airline body Airlines International Representation in Europe (AIRE), which recently rebranded from its former identity as the International Air Carriers’ Association (IACA), said the ENVI Committee’s decision “isolates and penalizes European airlines.”

“Today’s vote in ENVI Committee is a very unfortunate and risky backwards step. Instead of promoting a global resolution to a global problem, it has chosen to tighten and prolong a regional scheme, creating a precedent for a patchwork of systems and potentially discriminating against European airlines,” AIRES director general Sylviane Lust said.

AIRE added that its 19 members hope that the European Parliament will “correct this approach” in September and join the Council and the Commission in “a coherent and cohesive endorsement” of CORSIA as a replacement to the EU ETS.

Green lobby group Transport & Environment (T&E) said the vote underlined “considerable skepticism” over CORSIA.

“With a continuing lack of detail on how the UN aviation scheme will operate, and serious doubts about the effectiveness of offsetting, MEPs’ skepticism is well justified. Their vote today means that, whether by global or regional action, aviation must make a fair contribution to global climate efforts,” T&E aviation manager Andrew Murphy said.

T&E is also calling for the EU to stop state aid for aviation, as well as tax breaks on fuel duty and VAT.

Victoria Moores victoria.moores@penton.com