European Parliament’s vote for continued ‘Stop the Clock’ on aviation emissions a high risk move

Posted on 03 April 2014    
Airplane with vapor trail in blue sky
Airplane with vapor trail in blue sky
© Chris Martin Bahr / WWF
 WWF is disappointed by today’s vote by MEPs to accept the re-tabled trilogue proposal to continue ‘Stop the Clock’ for aviation in the EU Emission Trading System (ETS). Although MEPs voted to reduce the scope of aviation within the EU ETS to include intra-EU flights only, hoping that it will lead to better chances of a global agreement for aviation within the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), WWF considers this a high risk strategy with no guarantee of success.

This move will no doubt please those non-EU states opposed to the inclusion of aviation in the EU ETS and much of the airline industry. But having removed what they view as an obstacle from the path of progress within ICAO, the spotlight is now on them to ensure the successful design and development of a global market based measure for aviation, to be adopted at the next ICAO Assembly meeting in 2016.

Reacting to today’s vote, Jason Anderson, Head of European Climate and Energy Policy at WWF European Policy Office said:

“A continuation of ‘Stop the Clock’ in order to achieve a global agreement in the International Civil Aviation Organization is making the environment pay the price as aviation emissions coverage in the EU ETS will now be reduced by 75%. The EU has compromised too much in pursuit of this aim, with no guarantee of success.

What we need to see now is the BRICS, US and other countries to take a more constructive role within ICAO to ensure the adoption of a market based measure for aviation, ideally one that generates revenue to help developing countries take climate action. We also need to see the airline industry continuing to stand firm in their support of global and regional measures to reduce aviation emissions. Only then will the EU’s sacrifice not have been in vain.”


Notes to editors:

Aviation in the EU ETS has a history of controversy. The Aviation Directive of 2008 was approved as law by all EU Member States making the inclusion of aviation within the EU ETS the world’s first mandatory cap and trade system to address aviation pollution. In 2010 the European Court of Justice rejected a legal challenge by the US airlines industry and ruled that application of aviation in the ETS to non-EU carriers was fully compliant with international law. The implementation of aviation in ETS started in January 2012. Original emissions coverage was all flights (including non-EU carriers) into and out of EU airports.

Opposition from the US and other non-EU countries resulted in the EU deciding to ‘Stop the clock’ in 2012, significantly reducing ETS coverage for non-EU carriers. This was done in order to improve the chances of getting a global agreement through ICAO.

At the last Assembly in 2013, ICAO decided to develop a market based measure as the basis for a global agreement, with possible adoption in 2016 and implementation by 2020. However, there is no guarantee that this will happen.

Aviation within the EU ETS, although widely unpopular, has proved to be stimulus for progress within the ICAO negotiations. ETS has also helped to encourage the airline industry to support a global market based measure (MBM) for aviation, in preference to a ‘patchwork’ of regional measures such as ETS. However, if the pressure of ETS is reduced or removed, there is a real risk that the airline industry will back away from supporting MBMs – regional or global.

Threats of non-compliance or trade war due to ETS, for example failure to report emissions or cancellation of Airbus orders to China, have not materialised to any significant degree.

At the ICAO Assembly meeting in 2013, Member States resolved that compliance with pre-existing regional schemes such as the EU ETS will now require ‘mutual consent’. In response, the EU Commission first proposed an airspace compromise which was then weakened, after trilogue negotiations, to intra-EU flights only.

A vote by ENVI MEPs on 19 March narrowly rejected the trilogue proposal, preferring the airspace approach instead. The European Parliament plenary therefore had to vote either to accept the Commission’s original airspace proposal or to accept a re-tabling of the intra-EU flights only trilogue proposal.

Failure to agree either proposal could have resulted in a ‘snap back’ to the original ETS as from 1 May 2014.

The UN, World Bank and IPCCC all consider international aviation to be a promising source of climate finance for developing countries. WWF’s position is that the majority of revenues from ETS should be used for climate finance and a future ICAO market based measure should also include revenue generation.


Jason Anderson
Head of Climate & Energy
WWF European Policy Office
Phone:+32 2 740 09 35
Mobile:+32 4 74 837 603

Audrey Gueudet
Climate & Energy Media and Communication Officer
WWF European Policy Officer
Phone: +32 2 743 88 06 |
Mobile: + 32 494 03 20 27
Airplane with vapor trail in blue sky
Airplane with vapor trail in blue sky
© Chris Martin Bahr / WWF Enlarge

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