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EU’s climate reputation bruised as long-haul flight exemption extended

BRUSSELS 3 February 2017. The European Commission has proposed to continue to exempt all flights to and from Europe from paying for their pollution under the EU’s carbon market rules, following an international agreement on aviation emissions. An uncertain global agreement should not be allowed to undermine EU’s climate efforts.

The proposal comes after the UN aviation body, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) adopted an offsetting scheme that will enter into a voluntary pilot phase in 2021.

While the international scheme is a modest first step to address growing emissions from aviation, it is not in line with the Paris climate agreement’s goal to decarbonise by the second half of this century and limit global temperature rise to below 2°C. The scheme will only cover a portion of emissions growth above 2020 levels, and does nothing to address emissions below the 2020 level.

Critically, unlike the EU ETS that sets a cap on emissions, it allows airlines to pollute more as long as the emissions are offset through the purchase of carbon credits from various projects around the world. A number of critical details are still unclear including the credit quality of those offsets, what countries will participate, and how the scheme will be enforced.[i]

Kelsey Perlman, Policy Officer at Carbon Market Watch said:

“The EU has once again caved in under pressure from countries like the US and Russia. The global aviation deal is not strong enough to justify the extension of this derogation. The EU should continue to work towards a global solution, but show climate leadership and not let the international agreement undermine domestic ambition.”

EU’s 2030 emissions reduction goal at risk

Exempting international flights from the EU ETS erodes the bloc’s domestic climate target of at least 40% less emissions by 2030, because the target assumes that outgoing flights from Europe would be covered.

The European Commission itself estimates that the exclusion would increase the massive oversupply in the EU ETS by 300 million allowances.

Originally, the scope of aviation under the EU ETS was meant to cover flights to and from Europe and within the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland. The scope was reduced in 2013 under pressure from airlines and states, pending talks at the ICAO.

Aviation emissions account for approximately 4.9% of all global warming and if left unaddressed, are projected to grow by up to 300% by 2050. The sector enjoys massive subsidies including an exemption from VAT, but is currently paying practically nothing for the pollution it causes.



Kelsey Perlman, Policy Officer – Aviation
+32 487 13 02 80
[email protected]

Kaisa Amaral, Press Officer
+32 485 07 68 90
[email protected]

Notes to editor

[i] The EU Commission has found in a study that the new global measure may encounter enforcement challenges: Possible legal arrangements to implement a global market based measure for international aviation emissions

Background Briefing: Aviation under the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS)

Policy Brief: The CORSIA: ICAO’s market based measure and implications for Europe


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