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Published:August 4th, 2007 04:18 EST
Aviation Emissions Best Tackled Through Cooperation, Innovation

Aviation Emissions Best Tackled Through Cooperation, Innovation

By SOP newswire

Washington -- Addressing aviation emissions requires that countries cooperate globally and seek innovative solutions rather than try to impose their own plans on other nations’ airlines, U.S. officials and experts say.

Some countries and international aviation organizations have acknowledged that more needs to be done to address relatively small, but growing, greenhouse gas emissions produced by aircraft, and already have taken steps to address them. The aviation sector is responsible for only 3 percent of the total emissions of gases that are believed to contribute to global warming. In contrast, power-generation and the transportation sector as a whole represent 33 percent and 21 percent respectively of those emissions.

During the 2000-2006 period, while air traffic was increasing, the United States actually reduced jet fuel consumption, and thereby reduced greenhouse gas emissions by millions of tons through air traffic improvements, operational changes and technological innovation. In June, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the U.S. civil aviation regulator, launched a major initiative to develop alternative aircraft fuels that produce fewer emissions.

The European Union (EU), however, has taken a different approach. In 2006, it issued a proposal to include air carriers in its broader carbon dioxide emissions trading scheme. By unilaterally including foreign airlines serving European destinations, the EU created a controversy that threatens to slow down collaborative international efforts on the issue, according to U.S. officials.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the U.N. agency charged with promoting aviations standards and best practices, has endorsed emission trading but only with the consent of affected countries. The EU has not sought such consent and faced almost universal opposition from non-European countries, including the United States, that would be affected by the regulation beginning in 2012.

“We do intend to push back very hard on the EU on this," Transportation Secretary Mary Peters told U.S. lawmakers in May.

In June, the FAA and the European Commission established a public-private partnership to develop and implement operational practices and technologies to reduce airline emissions.  On such measures, there is broad international agreement.

On implementation of an emissions trading scheme for international aviation, however, “we are still very far apart," says Megan Walklet-Tighe, a senior expert in the State Department’s Office of Transportation Policy.  The United States disagrees with the unilateral nature of the EU’s proposed legislation, asserting that it is unlawful, she said in an interview. 

The U.S. administration is focused on trying to reach an agreement on the issue in ICAO, Walklet-Tighe said. The triennial ICAO assembly in September is expected to finalize guidance for states on a variety of environmental measures and principles, including how best to address aviation greenhouse gas emissions.  ICAO Secretary-General Taïeb Chérif said that countries should be free to select such measures they consider most cost-effective.

The EU has argued that ICAO does not work fast enough.  But the large majority of countries doubt that action to reduce aviation emissions must be “a European one-size-fits-all solution," said Walklet-Tighe, given that the experiences of countries all over the world are different.

She and other U.S. officials pointed out that the EU plan does not include measures with the greatest potential for immediate and cost-effective emission reduction, such as improvements in the European air traffic management system.

The EU has not made much progress in implementing the Single European Sky, a proposed “borderless" air-traffic management system that promises to produce $4.5 billion in savings and reduce emissions by 12 percent, according to the International Air Transportation Association (IATA), a trade group.

The EU aviation emission trading plan is opposed by most international airlines, including European ones, because it would lead to fare increases and larger expenses by an industry already burdened with higher costs of fuel and security. A June study commissioned by airlines and aircraft producers estimates the compliance with the EU regulation would cost airlines $60 billion-$90 billion between 2011 and 2022 and lower their profits by $55 billion in the same period.

The plan does not prevent duplication of aviation emission taxes and charges being considered by the European Parliament and national governments that could add to the overall costs.

International airlines have vowed to pressure the EU to reconsider the proposal. If it becomes law, however, it could lead to litigation on competition grounds, according to Mark Bisset, an aviation lawyer at the Stephenson Hardwood law firm. The EU proposal affects more carriers serving longer routes, for example Asian airlines, than those flying shorter ones.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State John Byerly said the controversy could turn into a bitter dispute similar to a long-running fight over a unilateral EU airline noise regulation in the 1990s. In 2001, the EU was forced to withdraw the regulation, following legal proceedings initiated by the U.S. government.

The full text of the U.S. transportation secretary’s testimony is available on the House of Representatives’ Transportation Committee Web site. More information on the U.S. position on the EU plan is available on the FAA Web site.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

By Andrzej Zwaniecki
USINFO Staff Writer