If EU governments have kept to their word, letters should now be landing on the doormats of the airlines across the world who haven’t complied with the Emissions Trading Scheme. This coordinated notice of penalties for noncompliant airlines is a desperate last minute attempt to show that EU laws will be applied when airlines operate in Europe. The EU data is sketchy, but we showed that a number of airlines, including China Eastern and Air India, were missing from EU records, despite the law saying they should pay for their pollution when they flew from one EU airport to another (the UK won't currently confirm who isn't compliant).

Paper plane

Thanks to Flickr user Pommegranny for the photo

Now the proposals for a change to the scheme are in trilogue discussion between the three pillars of the EU government. MEP Peter Liese, who is leading the proposals, has said he is willing to compromise further, and allow the current limited scheme to continue for two more years. Mr Liese has been forced into this position, despite securing the backing of the Parliament’s Environment committee to cover total airspace emissions (a charge for all aviation emissions when a plane is in EU airspace). Member states, scared of recrimination from China, India, and other nations, are not budging, insisting that the present weak state of affairs remains, and in the hope of a global scheme for aviation in 2020.

So Peter Liese appears to be demanding just two compromises from member states; that the scheme switch back to full coverage in 2016, and that the revenue from aviation in the emissions trading scheme go toward international climate finance. The climate finance amendment could make the scheme more popular with other countries. But some member states, particularly the UK, make a show of fighting hypothecated revenues; they do not like being told what they can spend their money on.

Whatever is decided in trilogue must be palatable enough to pass through Parliament. If MEPs believe that the legislation is environmentally too weak, or that international airlines might be allowed to ignore it anyway, then the proposal will fail. If that happens, legislation automatically kicks in to charge for emissions across the entirety of flights to or from the EU.

Key dates for the aviation proposal

  • 3 March: Environment Council
  • 4 March: Second Trilogue
  • 14 March: Transport Council
  • 31 March: Aviation ETS 2013 reporting deadline
  • 2-3 and 14-17 April: European Parliament plenary sessions – The deadline for a decision