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Update on U.S. Dispute with EU on Airline Emissions (10/23)     Print Email

By Brian Beary, U.S. Correspondent for ”Europolitics”

When the US Congress reconvenes in lame duck-session after the November elections, it is expected to finalize legislation that would authorize the U.S. government to prohibit U.S airlines from participating in the EU Emission Trading System (ETS).  Last month, the US Senate followed the House of Representatives in opposing the airlines emissions measure, and both houses will now have to reconcile the variances in their respective versions.

The ETS applies to all flights landing at or departing from EU airports as of January 2012.  See earlier European Affairs article on this issue. Crunch time comes in April 2013, which is the deadline for the EU to begin collecting penalty charges from airlines that emit more carbon dioxide than allowed under the ETS. Critics point out that the emissions meter runs for the entire duration of a flight, for example from San Francisco to London, even though only a fraction of those emissions are released in EU airspace.

Back in Brussels, EU Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard reacted to the Senate vote with dismay and defiance, insisting that the ETS is here to stay.  She added, however, that  U.S. Airlines would be exempted from the ETS if the US adopts “equivalent measures” to reduce aviation emissions, or if a global agreement can be reached by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

Despite Hedegaard's determination to stay the course, global momentum is mounting against the measure. In addition to the U.S., other major economies are equally keen to face down the EU. India and China are refusing to co-operate, while Russia is also hostile.  Within the EU, while no country has yet publicly broken ranks with the Commission, there are murmurs that some member states worry openly about whether this issue is worth risking vital trade relationships.

Next year, the battle lines may shift from air to sea, as the EU considers ways in which to reduce greenhouse emissions in ocean shipping.

Brian Beary is the U.S. correspondent for Europolitics, the Brussels-based European affairs daily newspaper and a member of the European Institute’s ”European Affairs” Board of Advisors.