EU Airline Carbon Tax Foes Must Shift Course

Officials from 23 governments led by Russia, China, the U.S. and India have now selected their petty retaliations against the European Union’s airline carbon tax on all flights landing or taking off from European soil, which began in January 2012, becoming the first international price on carbon emissions.

But the retaliations do not solve the problem of airline emissions, and the EU asks them to find an alternative solution that does.

eu airline carbon tax

image via Shutterstock

The EU’s tax is designed to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by incentivizing solutions that reduce carbon emissions from flying—such as more climate-friendly fuels, partial electrification and more fuel-efficient aircraft.

This EU rule, passed in 2006, is why stories like this have been increasing over the last few years:

Under EU climate policy run by the European Trading Scheme (ETS)—Europe’s cap and trade plan—permits for a capped amount of emissions are allocated and those funds are pooled and used to invest in clean energy and other energy-efficiency measures and projects that reduce carbon emissions.

The ETS grew from the signing of the Kyoto Accord 13 years ago, and since 2005 has capped and cut stationary sources of pollution in the EU, and has reduced European emissions below Kyoto targets.

(Related: Why The EU Airline Carbon Fees Are Great News)

Now the EU is looking at airlines.

The first payments for this year’s emissions are expected in 2013. Last year airlines gathered their emissions data and submitted it to the ETS—initially they just had to tally and forward figures to the EU—in order to provide a baseline.

The carbon fee is trivial.

The carbon fee is really not terribly onerous. Airlines can to recoup it from customers. On a per-person basis, to recoup the carbon cost of the emissions from the flight, a flight from the U.S. would increase in price by as little as $3. Or the airlines could fly more fuel-efficient planes.

Pointing out that the European Union had tried for a decade to achieve a global solution to reducing emissions before finally passing this law in 2006—giving six years warning—Connie Hedegaard, the European climate commissioner, has chided the 23 for not coming up with any alternative plan. She’s holding firm until an alternative system is in place.

Any withdrawal of the law “must be the day where we actually have an agreement and it enters into force,” she says. “Our legislation is not going to be changed.”

What have the 23 come up with?

Not much. No climate mitigation at all is considered. The ridiculously petty tit-for-tat retaliations include reviewing bilateral and “open skies” agreements on landing rights and market access, freezing consideration of any new routes or capacity, and reopening trade agreements in non-aviation sectors.

The original 26 countries are now down to 23. They dropped “putting pressure on EU industries,” by freezing trade negotiations. They dropped the proposal to send a letter to the EU stating individual nations’ inability to join the ETS. Countries are free to choose which proposals they would actually use.

But the final “Moscow Joint Declaration” still includes the option of imposing punitive levies on European airlines when they fly over other countries’ airspace, even though it is actually the European airlines that will shoulder the highest costs, because they have the vast majority of flights that land and take off in the EU, and are not among those airlines seeking this irrelevant and climate-blind retaliation.

These non-climate-related policies are not going to make any sense to Hedegaard, who is focused on reducing carbon emissions.

Susan Kraemer enjoys writing to publicize the many great solutions for climate change that we can find if we just put our minds to it. She covers renewable policy and clean energy for CleanTechnica and GreenProphet and green building at HomeDesignFind. She recently moved home to Waiheke Island where her writing is now powered by the 80% renewable electricity that powers New Zealand.

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