EU apex court upholds emissions cap on aviation sector

EU Aviation Directive will be binding; airlines' operations cost to increase

By Uthra Radhakrishnan
Published: Friday 30 December 2011

Starting January 1 in the new year, all flights operating in the European Union will be subjected to carbon emission limits. The regulations will also apply to aircraft flying in and out of the 27-nation bloc. This follows the European Court of Justice, the highest court of the European Union, ruling in the affirmative that the aviation industry shall be subjected to a cap on its carbon emissions. 

The US, which has for long opposed the EU Aviation Directive, along with China have expressed serious concerns over the   December 21 verdict. The grand jury’s order will now be binding on the UK High Court, where the Air Transport Association of America and several other US airlines had initially filed a suit against the directive.

The US, whose airlines contribute nearly 40 per cent of the worlds’ aircraft emissions (their emissions are expected to quadruple by 2050 in the absence of any intervention), challenged the EU’s scheme on the ground that it violated many existing international agreements such as the Chicago Convention and the EU-US Open Skies Agreement, laying emphasis on the breach of national sovereignty that such a law would impose. The court’s ruling, which is the final one in this law suit, has put such doubts to rest. The court has ruled “the application of the emissions trading scheme to aviation infringes neither the principles of customary international law at issue nor the Open Skies Agreement.”

China has opposed the verdict as it fears that many Chinese airlines will be unfairly taxed since most of its airlines have relatively new aircraft as compared to those of the US and the EU, making it more expensive for them to increase their efficiency. One estimate suggests that Chinese airlines could face an extra cost of 800 million yuan a year (about US $125 million) on flights originating or landing in Europe, and that the cost could be almost four times higher by 2020.

India, on the other hand, has expressed its concern regarding the unilateral nature of the EU move. For registering its opposition, the ministry of civil aviation had convened a meeting in late September, attended by 27 non-EU countries. The meeting was followed by a joint declaration against the directive, which was later adopted by the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) Council.

China to challenge court order

The International Air Transport Association (IATA), which lobbies for the powerful aviation industry, has said it is disappointed with the ruling. With China vowing to file a lawsuit challenging the court’s decision and US’ grudging disapproval of EU’s proactive move, many suspect trade-wars may erupt.

Meanwhile, a transatlantic coalition of environmental organizations have hailed the decisions as a positive step in the right direction. Vera Pardee, a senior official at Center for International Biodiversity, which is a part of the coalition, was quoted as saying: “We applaud this decision and the EU's resolve against international pressure tactics. Until now, the airlines have sabotaged every effort to curb their greenhouse gas emissions, including introducing bills in the US Congress that threaten to derail international aviation via global trade wars simply to avoid the EU permitting system. The industry should end its obstruction of common-sense.”

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