Emissions trading system expands to cover air travel


The European Union's pioneering emissions trading system broke new ground at the beginning of the year when it was extended to include all domestic and international flights that arrive at, or depart from, an EU airport.

As the cost of air travel becomes cheaper, more people are flying and aviation emissions are rapidly rising. To mitigate the negative impact on the climate, the EU adopted legis - lation in 2008 to bring aviation into its emis - sions trading system from 1 January 2012. In the interim, the European Commission worked closely with the industry and national authorities to prepare for the change.

The extension of the trading system has been endorsed by the European Court of Justice after its legality was challenged by some US airlines and their airline associa - tion. In their ruling in December 2011, the Luxembourg-based judges stated the system was legal. It infringes neither the principle of territoriality, nor the sovereignty of third countries, since it is only applicable to opera - tors when their aircraft arrive at, or depart from, an EU airport.

To phase in the scheme, the Commission has adopted a benchmark value for allocat - ing greenhouse gas emission allowances to operators free of charge. During 2012, 85% of allowances will be allocated for free, with 15% auctioned. Between 2013 and 2020, the same number will be auctioned, 82% given free and 3% kept in reserve for fast- growing airlines and new market entrants.

Certain flights are exempt from the scheme. These include very light aircraft, small com - mercial operators, flights on state and govern - ment business, and military, police, customs and rescue aircraft. The Commission considers that the actual cost of the scheme to airlines for providing a one way transatlantic flight to be less than EUR 2 per passenger.

Next steps

Since its launch in 2005, the Emissions Trading System (ETS) had, by 2010, helped to reduce average emissions per installation (for exam - ple, factories and power plants) by over 17 000 tonnes of CO 2. When the system's third trading period starts in 2013, various changes will be introduced to strengthen it even further.

These will include a progressive move towards greater auctioning of allowances with at least half of the proceeds devoted to fighting climate change and facilitating the move towards a low-carbon economy. In addition, the Commission has proposed new implementing rules on the monitoring and reporting of greenhouse gas emissions and on the verification and accreditation of verifiers in the EU ETS. These rules will make monitoring and reporting more accurate and transparent and will help verifiers to check the reports submitted by over 10 000 energy intensive installations and hundreds of airline operators. The system will also be extended to cover the petrochemicals, ammonia and aluminium industries in 2013.

Looking ahead, the Commission is now considering a variety of options to reduce emissions from the maritime industry; one of which is the inclusion of maritime emissions into the European ETS.


Climate action