EU Ratchets Up Pressure for UN Emissions Solution

Talks to hammer out a global mechanism to limit airline greenhouse gas emissions begin today (September 24) at the ICAO’s headquarters in Montreal.

Given that the UN body only meets in full once every three years, the pressure to reach an accord over the next fortnight is immense – yet negotiations could be hamstrung from the start.

At the centre of the debate lies the European Union, whose controversial Emissions Trading Scheme is both the catalyst for the current round of talks and the main reason they might fail.

Perhaps mindful of past ICAO prevarication on emissions, the EU wants any forthcoming resolution to allow ETS to run until 2020 – a demand that could reignite threats of a trade war that were only dampened by the current moratorium on the application of ETS to foreign (non-EU) carriers.

To sweeten the deal, the EU has offered a major concession: when the ETS returns to force, foreign carriers will no longer be liable for emissions made outside EU airspace.

In one swoop that addresses the most indigestible part of ETS for countries such as India, China, and the US – namely the scheme’s extra-sovereign application, which Brazil has described – with some justification – as “an affront to the principles of international law”.

Nonetheless, hostility towards ETS has become so entrenched within certain governments that even the latest modification may not be enough to appease all.

India, for instance, holds to the general line that as a developing country it should not be held to the emissions limits of first-world nations, which have been responsible for the majority of historic greenhouse gas output.

The EU is not backing down, however, and has threatened to restore ETS in full if the ICAO does not reach a globally-binding agreement by the close of its assembly on October 4.

Some may view this as myopic fanaticism, but the EU’s hardball approach is, in fact, vital to drive through some sort of deal. Moreover, the demand for continuation of ETS until 2020 may be jettisoned should ICAO members agree something meaningful.

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