An International Supervillian; crossing borders with impunity, evading all attempts at capture, the inclusion of aviation in the European Union’s emissions trading scheme (EU ETS) in 2012 was intended to finally bring this rogue polluter to justice, but the cunning sector may have once again escaped.

This week sees the conference of the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation), and on the table is the EU’s ultimatum, of sorts; come up with a global aviation emissions trading scheme, or we’ll put international aviation back into the EU ETS, which would result in a trade war of epic proportions. In 2012, when aviation was introduced to the ETS, the Russians, Chinese, Americans and Indians protested strongly, and came up with a long list of retaliatory ‘countermeasures’ to punish the EU (see bottom of blog). The EU hesitated, and ‘Stopped the Clock’, giving a one year leave of absence to international airlines. The aviation industry has focused massive lobbying pressure on EU governments, and now we have the compromise proposal on the table;

  • the ICAO conference must a decision to design a global market in aviation emissions by 2016, to take effect by 2020.
  • meanwhile the EU will only apply the ETS within its own airspace, leaving the majority of emissions from international flights outside the scheme.

Regional airspace from Transport and Environment

Transport & Environment, campaigners for smarter, greener transport in Europe, have produced these nifty graphics that show how a large proportion of emissions from an international flight are not covered under the EU's suggested airspace-only approach (currently under discussion at the ICAO conference).

Some ICAO members are already balking at the prospects of any global scheme, particularly China and India who argue that different rules should apply to Developed and Developing countries. The EU has argued that air-travel is principally used by the rich, no matter the country they hail from.

In the short-term, the EU ETS has offered the chance for some carriers to make money; free allocations of allowances has allegedly meant some international airlines have remained in the scheme even after the ‘Stop the Clock’ exemption. However, on the main, airline emissions are growing whilst the cap is falling, so, barring revolutionary increases in plane efficiency, the long term likelihood is that an increasing proportion of the emissions will have to be paid for.

As some of the 191 countries that make up the ICAO continue to raise objections, individual MEPs are speaking out. Mattias Groote, who took ‘backloading’ through the EU Parliament, said “"We cannot accept an ICAO resolution that would postpone action to 2020” This matters, because if MEPs aren’t happy, the European Commission may not be able to persuade the European Parliament to extend ‘Stop the Clock’; even if ICAO does what the Commission wants, Parliament could bring international aviation right back into the EU ETS anyway.

When will aviation become a “responsible global citizen”? We find out, this week.


The threatened countermeasures if the EU were to include international aviation in the ETS:

  • suspending current and future discussions to enhance operating rights for EU aircraft operators,
  • imposing additional levies/charges on EU carriers operators
  • reviewing bilateral air agreements with the EU and its individual Member States
  • reinstate an onerous overflight fee for EU carriers on routes over Siberia