Flights of Fancy: Including US Airlines in EU Carbon Trading System Triggers Fears of Air-mageddon

Suddenly, it seems, airlines around the world – including in the US – have just woken up to the fact that they’ll soon have to take part in Europe’s carbon emissions trading scheme. And they’re freaking out.

I don’t really understand the hysteria. They’ve known since 2008 that starting at the end of this year, airlines and freight companies that fly into the European Union will have to either cut their greenhouse gas emissions to meet EU standards or buy carbon permits for that excess pollution.

Now, all of a sudden, it’s front page news. There are lawsuits and diplomatic protests and congressional bills and lobbyists howling and righteous indignation steaming from boardrooms across the planet. It’s as though they didn’t think the Europeans were serious about actually making them do it, and now that it’s clear they are, the industry is scrambling to try to avert Air-mageddon.

I suppose the outrage is predictable, even understandable; I mean, look, they’re just now getting used to the extra billions from making us pay for checked bags, meals, seat assignments and just about everything else except restroom use (so far). It does seem terribly unfair that the airline industry should no longer be allowed to pollute for free.

Meanwhile, Europe is standing its ground. We now include power producers, we now include manufacturing,” EU climate action commissioner Connie Hedegaard told the New York Times, “so how can we not include aviation?” (Plans to bring ground transport and shipping under the carbon trading scheme are underway, as well).

It’s disappointing to see the Obama administration lining up behind the proposition that US airlines shouldn’t be held responsible for their carbon emissions. A State Department official told the New York Times that The European Union is imposing this on U.S. carriers without our agreement … It is for the U.S. to decide on targets or appropriate action for U.S. airlines with respect to greenhouse gas emissions.”

Well, y’know, actually … it’s not. We’re demonstrably cooking the planet, and getting into a high dudgeon over perceived infringements of national sovereignty is dumb and dangerous. Europe has sensibly decided to take action to reduce carbon emissions from all the various sectors of their economy. And if you wanna fly into their airports, you’re gonna have to play by their rules because at that point, you’re part of their economy.

This once again highlights President Obama’s lackluster work on global warming. After his party’s “shellacking” in last November’s mid-term elections, Obama announced he was dropping efforts to create a US cap and trade system. But, he said, he’d continue to push for other ways to address the threat of climate change.

And to be fair, he has had the Environmental Protection Agency move forward with a plan to exercise the authority the Supreme Court says the agency has to regulate greenhouse gases as an air pollutant. But that’s being threatened by lawsuits and Congressional attempts to hamstring the EPA, and how effective it will ultimately be is still a question. Meanwhile, little else of consequence has been done by this administration to address climate change.

So how hard can it be to just let the Europeans take the lead on aviation emissions? Lord knows, the US has pretty much let them get way out in front on pretty much everything else having to do with global warming. Why does the president feel he needs to fight the EU on bringing aviation into the emissions trading scheme?

Beats me. But it doesn’t fill me with confidence that the US is going to take climate change seriously anytime soon.

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2 Responses to Flights of Fancy: Including US Airlines in EU Carbon Trading System Triggers Fears of Air-mageddon

  1. Joel Rogers says:

    Great overlooked issue – Q: Do the forthcoming fuel-efficient engines for the 787 and A320 aid in meeting EU standards? J – Seattle

    • liammoriarty says:

      Near as I can tell, the engine on the Dreamliner is suposed to be 20 percent more fuel efficient. The engines (you have a choice of two) in the A-320neo are 16 percent more efficient, but actual performance is expected to be about 2 percent less due to other aeronautic factors.

      The new provisions of bringing the aviation sector into the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme call for aircraft to emit 3 percent less carbon in 2012, and 5 percent annually after that, up to 60 percent by 2050.

      Biofuels and other lower-carbon fuels are another way to achieve that goal.

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