EU push for global action on aviation emissions bears fruit


Civil aircraft flying in Europe’s regional airspace will be covered by the EU’s emissions trading system (ETS) from the beginning of January 2014 once the necessary legislation is approved in the coming months. The new arrangements will remain in place until 2020 when a worldwide emissions system is due to begin

One passenger on a return journey from London to New York generates the same level of emissions as if they had heated their home for a year

Greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft are growing fast as more people fly to more destinations. One passenger on a return journey from London to New York generates the same level of emissions as if they had heated their home for a year. For this reason, the EU believes the airline sector should make its contribution to the fight against climate change.

Civil aviation has been part of the ETS, requiring operators to use allowances to offset their emissions, since the beginning of 2012.

The legislation covers emissions from all flights into, out of and within the European Economic Area (EEA) – the EU plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway – for the entire length of the flight. However, the EU decided to apply the ETS only to flights within the EEA and not to flights to and from third countries, in order to give more time for the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to reach agreement on global action to address aviation emissions.

  • Aviation emissions represent some 2.5% of global greenhouse gases
  • By 2050, ICAO forecasts they could grow by 500-800% and increase their share to 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
  • finding the best responses;
  • Including aviation in the EU ETS should save up to 250 million tonnes of CO2 by 2015.

The EU’s push for worldwide action bore fruit in October 2013 when the ICAO agreed to develop a global market-based mechanism to tackle international aviation emissions by 2016 and apply it by 2020. In response to this progress, and as a concession to help advance negotiations on the global measure further, the European Commission is proposing that the ETS apply to all flights, but only the part that takes place in European regional airspace. The more limited scope for flights to and from third countries would apply from 1 January 2014 until 2020.

The proposed scheme takes full account of the special circumstances of developing countries. Flights to and from low and lower middle income countries would be totally exempted. This excludes routes to over 70 nations which have a less than 1% share of international aviation activity.

Next steps

The Commission hopes the proposal can be adopted by the European Parliament and the Council in the first quarter of 2014. The Commission will review the EU system after the next ICAO Assembly in 2016. If the global market-based mechanism is adopted then, the EU will align its system with the ICAO’s. If not, the Union will have to consider how to proceed after the end of the decade.


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