EU buoyed by aviation deal but critical of climate talks
The EU has welcomed an international deal to limit carbon emissions from the aviation sector, but criticised the slow pace of progress in separate climate talks ahead of a crucial United Nations meeting in Cancun, Mexico, later this year.
Senior EU officials said an agreement clinched late on Friday night (8 September) to limit aeroplane emissions would allow the EU to push ahead with plans to charge airlines for pollution permits from 2012 onwards.
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"This deal is very significant because at a global level, governments and the aviation industry have for the first time agreed to cap greenhouse emissions from 2020," said EU transport commissioner Siim Kallas.
Europe plans to include aviation in its flagship mechanism to curb CO2 gases - the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) - from 2012 onwards, but has faced challenges from a number of US airlines over the bloc's right to include their flights into and out of Europe within the scheme.
The commission now feels that Friday's deal at the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) - a UN agency - has strengthen its hand.
"Crucially, the ICAO has refrained from language that would make the application of the EU's ETS to their airlines dependent on the mutual agreement of other states," the commission said in a statement. "It was this requirement that led to a stalemate at the last ICAO Assembly in 2007."
As part of the deal, negotiators from 190 member states adopted a non-binding resolution setting out plans to make the aviation sector two percent more fuel-efficient every year and to cap emissions from 2020. The industry currently produces roughly two percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Europe's interpretation of Friday's agreement has met with opposition however. The Air Transport Association - the top trade body representing US aviation - said the resolution in no way weakened the legal case being taken by a number of US airlines against the EU's ETS scheme.
Separately, the EU criticised the slow progress of climate talks in China last week, the last formal gathering before a global summit is set to begin next month.
"The progress achieved in Tianjin has been very patchy and much too slow," said the EU's climate commissioner, Connie Hedegaard, on Saturday.
"The gap between the texts on the table at the end of the Tianjin session and the decisions we need to reach in Cancún is still very big. A lot of work will be needed over the coming weeks to bridge this gap," she added.
A UN conference in Copenhagen last December failed to secure the binding legal framework on curbing greenhouse gas emissions that the EU had hoped for.
Instead, it resulted in an "accord" calling for global temperature increases to be limited to two degrees Celsius. Rich countries also agreed to "mobilise" $100 billion in long-term climate financing by 2020, although the amount of new money coming from public funds would amount to between between €22 and €50 billion of this.
Ms Hedegaard said last week's talks in China brought some progress in the areas of climate finance, technology co-operation, tropical deforestation and adaptation to climate change.
But she added that "signs of backtracking on the Copenhagen Accord by certain parties, gives us cause for concern about the balance of the Cancun package."
Green groups for their part raised alarm bells over the the issue of accounting rules for forests and land-use - one of the areas cheered by Ms Hedegaard as moving closer to agreement.
"The option currently receiving the most support by governments is one of the worst on the table," warned the Climate Action Network, an alliance of the major environmental NGOs. "If accepted, it would allow countries to use accounting tricks to hide up to half a gigatonne of emissions annually without penalty, equivalent to the annual emissions of Spain."