EU airline emissions restrictions attract opposition from the United States

Last August, the European Union (EU) voted to impose a law restricting carbon dioxide emissions from commercial airlines flying within, to and from Europe. The law went into effect on January 1 of this year and now, the United States government is trying to counteract the restrictions, saying that the new laws are too costly for American air carriers to keep up with. The new EU law requires all air carriers on flights into and out of Europe to pay to offset their carbon emissions caused from transcontinental flights, adopting a carbon credit system that allows airlines to trade emissions produced for carbon credits to fund environmental action projects.

The law, titled the EU Emissions Trading Scheme Directive (ETS), was adopted in 2008 and establishes a cap on carbon emissions on European flights. Airlines whose flights exceed this cap are now required to buy more carbon credits – a market-based approach that the airline industry says it is not financially prepared to undertake, as the industry as a whole has declined in profits since the global economic recession began in 2008.

U.S. airlines, including the Air Transport Association of America and American Airlines, filed a lawsuit claiming that the regulations violate the Open Skies Agreement, decided in 2007 by the United States and the European Union. This agreement allows air carriers from both regions to operate flights between Europe and the U.S. and to set reasonable prices on transcontinental flights. The plaintiffs also argued that the laws are inconsistent with the Chicago Convention, an agreement decided in 1944 that grants countries sovereignty over their domestic airspace.

According to NASA, the global airline industry produces around 4 percent of the world’s carbon emissions total each year. Some experts say that carbon emissions produced at a higher altitude may have a higher negative impact on the atmosphere than emissions produced at sea level.

Some airlines have begun experimenting with alternative jet fuels, but others have not taken these steps toward environmentally friendly air travel. Some airlines also offer carbon offsetting programs, in which passengers can pay an additional fee to fund environmental projects to mitigate carbon emissions.

The global aviation industry has attempted to restrict emissions from flights since 1997, without much success. The EU law is the first major step toward setting consequences for carbon emissions, and under the new law, airlines will have to comply or face restrictions or a ban from flying to Europe. The EU’s environmental actions, including its strong participation at the COP17 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa this past December, have proved that it has firm intentions to instate policies against climate change – so it is unlikely that the EU will retract the ETS and allow other bodies, such as the U.S., an exemption.

Since the required payment for carbon credits would translate to an increase in airfare, the EU aims to hold all airlines to the same standard. Allowing some airlines to not participate in the carbon credit scheme would enable those airlines to offer lower ticket prices, creating an unfair market. In the meantime, while the U.S. attempts to negotiate with the EU, flights to Europe could be reduced or suspended. The new regulations have gathered international opposition from countries besides the U.S. as well.

The U.S. government is trying to fight the EU restrictions, arguing that the carbon offset fees are unfair and too expensive. However, these regulations are necessary in order for the airline industry to take responsibility for their emissions and eventually switch to cleaner fuels. Sign this petition on ForceChange.com to show your support for greener skies.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/paul_everett82/2293111298

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