The EU wanted to exert international pressure to speed up the reduction of carbon emissions in air traffic. However, it failed because its climate policy met with existing conflicts of interest. An article from Aloft - An Inflight Review.
On 1 January 2012, the European Union expanded its emissions trading system (ETS) to air traffic. Its aim was to create price pressure to decarbonise this industrial sector, i.e., to significantly reduce its emission of climate-related pollutants. All airlines that take off or land in the EU, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein were supposed to report the carbon emissions of their flights in the course of the year.
Key elements of the concept were: the airlines are not responsible for 87 per cent of their respective amount, but have to bid for EU certificates for the remaining share. In 2012, the EU will reduce the issuance of these certificates by 3 per cent and from 2013 to 2020 by 5 per cent annually. This makes them increasingly expensive. The increase in cost is determined by the demand at the auctions and thus by the market. The simplest way to avoid these costs is to save kerosene. The EU calculated that in 2020, this could reduce carbon emissions by about 70 million tons.
In air traffic to and from Europe, it is mainly the Europeans who put strain on the climate. They pay for this but the others don’t. Source: EU, Aviation and Emission Trading. ICAO Council Briefing – Creator: Atlasmanufaktur, Aloft - An Inflight Review. This image is licensed under Creative Commons License.
The ETS was supposed to cover emissions on the entire route, including the country of origin and destination, as well as over the oceans. What followed was a global public outcry. Politicians abroad complained that the EU were imposing their own agenda on other states and even impeaching their sovereignty. Rather than participate, China, India and the US threatened retaliation, e.g. to deny overflight rights.
As a consequence, the EU initially suspended the introduction of the ETS for one year. They subsequently restricted the covered distances to EU territory, excluded all airlines from third countries and finally limited this regulation until 2016. Only airlines that are based in the EU are subject to the ETS and they are now complaining about the cost disadvantages compared to competing companies from third countries. Some EU airlines simply added the additional costs onto the ticket price. Flying therefore became slightly more expensive, but not cleaner.
At the same time, the pressure of finding a global solution to the problem increased. The Kyoto Protocol of 1997 instructed the UN aviation organization ICAO to develop a reduction model. In the same year, the ICAO proposed a voluntary efficiency improvement of only 2 per cent per year. Global models did not follow until 2012. These included emission trading, but also offsetting. By means of this “compensation”, carbon emissions are compensated by funding carbon reductions elsewhere, such as forest conservation. However, the emissions themselves are not reduced.
The submission was too late for a decision at the ICAO Assembly in 2013. As the organization meets only every three years, it was resolved to decide on the new system at the meeting in autumn 2016. It has already been agreed that it should become effective in 2020.