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All Airlines Flying In & Out of EU Will Be Charged for Carbon Emissions, Court Decides

Whether or not all international airlines can legally be charged for its carbon emissions when flying in and out of the EU has been a hot topic for awhile. The US (in particular, the Air Transport Association of America, American Airlines, and United Continental) contested this EU legislation and brought it to court, but the news today is that the EU’s highest court has given unreserved backing to the law.

I think I first wrote about this law in August, 2009, when the EU released a 94-list of the airlines that would have to comply with it, but the law was announced in 2008. In June of this year, Susan wrote on the US and China’s last-ditch effort to contest the law. And another CleanTechnica author discussed the topic in depth in October. But, back to the news today.

What Does the Airlines Law Mean? Is It Legal?

According to the law and the court’s backing, all airlines flying into our out of EU airports will have to carbon emissions permits under the EU’s emissions trading scheme… starting in less than 10 days now here in Europe — on January 1, 2012.

“The directive including aviation activities in the EU’s emissions trading scheme is valid,” the European court of justice announced in a statement.

“Application of the emissions trading scheme to aviation infringes neither the principles of customary international law at issue nor the open-skies agreement.”

As noted in the October piece above, the law was deemed legal by experts back then and this decision was expected. And The Guardian notes:

“Wednesday’s ruling was in line with expectations after a senior adviser to the court issued a preliminary opinion in October finding the EU legislation did not infringe the sovereignty of other states and was compatible with international agreements.”

There is some flexibility in the law, and some decisions not finalized.

At the start, airlines only have to cover 15% of the carbon they emit (they get “free allowances” for the other 85%). Additionally, if incoming flights are coming from a country that has policies in place to cover the carbon emissions of the airlines internationally, they will be exempted.

The EU projects that if airlines pass these costs on to passengers, costs could go up €2 ($2.60) to €12 ($15.65) per passenger.

Rising Carbon Emissions and EU’s Leadership

The Guardian also notes that while emissions from all other many sectors have been falling for years in the EU due to its cap and trade system, they have doubled since 1990 in the airlines sector and could triple by 2020.

While, under the Kyoto protocol of 1997, aviation emissions were supposed to be cut through the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organisation, nothing has been achieved in nearly 15 years and the EU decided it was time to act unilaterally.

US Still Pushing for the EU to Change Course

The US, full of Congressional leaders who don’t understand (or don’t care) that lack of action on global warming and climate change will create (and already is creating) a much less human-friendly world, has some members of Congress proposing to make abiding by the airlines law illegal. Wouldn’t that make for some fun? (Not!)

But that pressure isn’t only coming from the Republican party. “In a letter sent to EU officials last week, the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, and the US secretary of transportation, Raymond LaHood, urged the EU to reconsider and re-engage with the rest of the world.”

Nonetheless, the EU doesn’t look like it’s likely to change course.

“I cannot imagine a situation where the European parliament amends legislation just because of pressure from China or the United States,” Peter Liese, a German Christian democrat who led discussions in the European parliament, said. “We (in Europe) represent 500 million people and the biggest market in the world.”

Airplane via shutterstock

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