US aviation ETS Prohibition Act ‘largely irrelevant’, say environmental groups

Posted on 29 November 2012    
Airplane with vapor trail in blue sky
Airplane with vapor trail in blue sky
© Chris Martin Bahr / WWF
Commenting on President Obama’s signing yesterday of the ETS Prohibition Act into law [1], which makes it illegal for US airlines to comply with EU legislation to reduce aviation emissions, leading European environmental groups said that the move was ‘largely irrelevant’ if UN talks on addressing greenhouse gas emissions from aviation make progress and ‘sent the wrong message’ if the US is serious about climate change.

With the EU recently announcing temporary changes to its European Emissions Trading system (EU ETS) [2] that would encourage international negotiations on a global solution, the groups WWF-UK and the Aviation Environment Federation (AEF) said that the focus was now firmly on the US to drive forward progress on tackling aviation emissions through ICAO, the UN International Civil Aviation Organization.

“‘We are disappointed that Obama did not veto this unnecessary legislation as the EU has just offered US and other non-EU flights a temporary exemption from ETS,’ said Jean Leston, WWF-UK’s Senior Transport Policy Advisor. “The time has come for more positive US action within ICAO to support a global market based measure (MBM) for aviation, not just a vague ‘basket of measures,’ and we look forward to hearing their proposals on how to meet the climate challenge from aviation emissions.”

“The EU’s ‘stop the clock’ action has set another clock ticking; without an acceptable global outcome next year, the full provisions of the EU ETS will come back into effect in 2014. The US has said it supports the goal of holding aviation emissions at 2005 levels from 2020 onward, which is a step in the right direction. We now want to see the US engage constructively during this limited window of opportunity rather than divert its energy to implementing the ETS Prohibition Act which is largely irrelevant and symbolic,” said Tim Johnson, Director of AEF.

The statement from WWF-UK and AEF follows three recent actions regarding reducing carbon emissions from aviation. On 12 November, the EU announced it would suspend for one year rules that require airlines performing flights to and from Europe to participate in their carbon emissions trading system.

The decision coincided with an agreement within ICAO to form a high-level advisory group to craft an international program to reduce emissions from the sector [3]. US legislation signed yesterday, known as the ETS Prohibition Act (or Thune Bill), gives the Secretary of Transportation the authority to prohibit US airlines from taking part in an EU emissions program.


Notes to editors

1. White House: Statement by the Press Secretary on H.R. 2606, H.R. 4114, S. 743 and S. 1956 (27.11.12):

2. European Commission: Stopping the clock of ETS and aviation emissions following last week's International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Council (12.11.2012):

3. ICAO: New ICAO Council High-level Group to Focus on Environmental Policy Challenges (15.11.2012):

4. Europe’s Aviation Directive, which includes aviation within Europe’s economy-wide Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) from 1 January 2012, is a pioneering law that holds airlines accountable for emissions associated with their commercial flights that land at or take off from EU airports. Aviation is one of the fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions, rising 3 to 4 per cent per year. Regulations that would require emissions reductions have been suspended for another year as a result of an International Civil Aviation Organization announcement to form a high-level group to craft an international strategy to reduce emissions.

5. The ETS Prohibition Act (Thune Bill), S. 1956, sponsored by Senator John Thune (R-SD) and signed into law on 27 November by President Obama, would give the Secretary of Transportation the authority to prohibit US airlines from complying with the aviation pollution controls lawfully adopted by the European Union.

For more information:

George Smeeton, Senior Press Officer WWF-UK
Tel: 01483 412 388, Mob: 07917 052 948, email:
Airplane with vapor trail in blue sky
Airplane with vapor trail in blue sky
© Chris Martin Bahr / WWF Enlarge

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