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8th Aug 2020

EU to 'stop the clock' on airline carbon tax

  • The European Commission wants to suspend the EU carbon aviation tax for one year. (Photo: Zach Stern)

The European Commission is proposing to suspend the enforcement of its controversial aviation tax for one year in a bid to allow dissenting non-EU countries to formulate an alternative global solution.

"If this exercise does not deliver – and I hope it does - then needless to say we are back to where we are today with the EU ETS [Emissions Trading Scheme]. Automatically," said EU climate action commissioner Connie Hedegaard in Brussels on Monday (12 November).

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ETS requires all airlines flying into or out of the EU to pay into a greenhouse gas emission allowance-trading scheme - except those countries which already have a similar system at home.

The aim, says the commission, is to fight climate change by reducing carbon emissions.

But the EU's ETS drew loud protests from around the world with the industry, saying it would cost them some €17.5 billion over the next eight years. Others say the system would create a confusing patchwork of differing policies and taxes.

The United States, China, India, Russia and other countries have all threatened to boycott the EU scheme.

The commission's temporary suspension means the countries will now have to formulate another global plan under the auspices of the UN’s aviation body, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

"Our regulatory scheme was adopted after having waited many years for ICAO to progress. Now it seems that because of some countries' dislike of our scheme many countries are prepared to move in ICAO," said Hedegaard.

The suspension does not apply to flights inside the EU by EU-domiciled airlines.

Meanwhile, Hedegaard said more countries are warming up to the idea of an international framework to reduce aviation pollution.

The UN body will attempt to address some of the politically sensitive issues by setting up a high-level policy group.

"Political choices have to be made and this is where we see new opportunities," noted the commissioner.

For its part, pro-green NGO the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) says Hedegaard's move buys some time for ICAO, but that its members will have to demonstrate their commitment to tackling the climate impacts of flying.

"This is a great chance for ICAO members to show leadership and push for action on a global agreement on this issue," said Jason Anderson, head of European climate and energy policy, WWF European Policy Office, in a statement.

A coalition of other pro-green NGOs said that the United States would now have to prove it is ready to tackle climate change.

"[US leader] Obama has finally the chance to prove that he means what he said on climate change in his victory speech," said Bill Hemmings of the Brussels-based pro-environment Transport & Environment group.

The commission's proposal to suspend the CO2 law still requires the approval of the European Parliament and member states.

Recovery plan slammed for failing to tackle climate crisis

EU leaders agreed that about a third of the €750bn recovery package and the €1.074 trillion seven-year budget will be invested in projects contributing to climate action. However, environmental activists said that the package falls short on climate safeguards.

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