Reducing emissions from aviation
As a step towards global action to mitigate the climate impacts of aviation, the EU has imposed a cap on CO2 emissions from flights arriving at or departing from EU airports.
Inclusion of aviation in the EU ETS
Since the beginning of 2012, emissions from international aviation are included in the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS).
Like industrial installations covered by the EU ETS, airlines receive tradeable allowances covering a certain level of CO2 emissions from their flights per year.
The legislation, adopted in 2008, applies to EU and non-EU airlines alike. Emissions from flights to and from Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway are also covered.
Flights to and from Europe temporarily exempted
In April 2013 the EU temporarily suspended enforcement of the EU ETS requirements for flights operated from or to non-European countries, while continuing to apply the legislation to flights within and between countries in Europe.
The EU took this initiative to allow time for the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Assembly in autumn 2013 to reach a global agreement to tackle aviation emissions – something Europe has been seeking for more than 15 years.
Agreement to develop global market-based mechanism
In October 2013 the EU's hard work paid off when the ICAO Assembly agreed to develop by 2016 a global market-based mechanism (MBM) addressing international aviation emissions and apply it by 2020. Until then countries or groups of countries, such as the EU, can implement interim measures.
Commission proposes limiting EU ETS to European regional airspace
In response to the ICAO outcome and to give further momentum to the global discussions, the European Commission has proposed amending the EU ETS so that only the part of a flight that takes place in European regional airspace is covered by the EU ETS.
The change would have applied from the beginning of 2014 until the planned global MBM enters into force.
Temporary exemption to be extended until 2016
In March 2014 the Council of the EU and European Parliament reached an informal agreement on the changes to aviation in the EU ETS.
The regulation in preparation will limit the aviation coverage of EU ETS to emissions from flights within the European Economic Area (EEA) for the period from 2013 to 2016. This applies to all (also third country) aircraft operators.
All options are left open for the EU to react to the developments of the ICAO Assembly in 2016 and to re-adjust the scope of the EU ETS from 2017 onwards.
The regulation also includes exemptions for small emitters.
The legislative process is expected to be concluded by the end of April 2014.
Emissions trading is most cost-efficient approach
In proposing the inclusion of aviation in the EU ETS in 2006, the Commission concluded that this was the most cost-efficient and environmentally effective option for controlling aviation emissions following a wide-ranging consultation of stakeholders and the public and analysis of several types of market-based solutions.
Compared with alternatives such as a fuel tax, including aviation in the EU ETS provides the same environmental benefit at a lower cost to society - or a higher environmental benefit for the same cost.
Compatible with international law
The EU's legislation on aviation emissions is compatible with international law. This was confirmed by the European Court of Justice on 21 December 2011 in a legal case brought by some US airlines and their trade association against the inclusion of aviation in the EU ETS.
The Court stated that:
- the extension of the EU ETS to aviation infringes neither the principle of territoriality, nor the sovereignty of third countries.
- the EU ETS does not constitute a tax, fee or charge on fuel, which could be in breach of the EU-US Air Transport Agreement.
- the uniform application of the EU ETS to European and non-European airlines alike is consistent with provisions in the EU-US Air Transport Agreement prohibiting discriminatory treatment between aircraft operators on nationality grounds.
Aviation emissions growing fast
Someone flying from London to New York and back generates roughly the same level of emissions as the average person in the EU does by heating their home for a whole year.
Direct emissions from aviation account for about 3% of the EU’s total greenhouse gas emissions. The large majority of these emissions comes from international flights.
By 2020, global international aviation emissions are projected to be around 70% higher than in 2005 even if fuel efficiency improves by 2% per year. ICAO forecasts that by 2050 they could grow by a further 300-700%.
Including aviation in the EU ETS is forecast to save around 176 million tonnes of CO2 emissions by 2015.