CEO’s from 13 of Europe’s top airlines lined up at a press conference in the Brussels airport's Sheraton Hotel to savage the ETS as “crazy” at a time when economic growth was imperative.
“Europe can’t afford a trade war at a time like this,” said Willie Walsh, CEO for the International Airlines Group, British Airways parent group. “The Commission has to move quickly to defuse the tensions that exist and which are rising on a daily basis.”
Walsh said that he had expressed the industry’s “anger and frustration” at what he called the EU’s “arrogant approach” in unilaterally imposing the ETS on the world, at a meeting with the EU’s vice-president and transport commissioner, Siim Kallas.
All but 10 airlines have signed up to the ETS, which obliges companies using European air space to buy some allowances to offset each tonne of their carbon emissions, although 85% of them have been given away free.
But “you should not confuse compliance with agreement,” Walsh warned. Opposition to the ETS was “widespread” and “growing” he said, due to fears of uncontrolled trade retaliation which would hit the air industry before other sectors, he said.
“The world is becoming a global village,” Bernard Gustin, the head of Brussels Airlines told EurActiv. “Lets be sure Europe is not the fool of the village.”
Air industry split
Despite the strong words from the 34 carriers represented by the Association of European Airlines [AEA], Europe’s aviation industry is split on carbon pricing.
“All this talk of trade wars is actually offering considerable leverage to those who are opposing [the ETS],” one airline industry source told EurActiv. “Why would you talk it up like that?”
“Its strong background music and I don’t think it is helpful,” the source added.
What environmentalists see as a near-paranoia among long-haul carriers over a perceived competitive disadvantage in the cut-throat air industry has been heightened by a Chinese decision to ban its air companies from participating in the ETS.
China says the ETS infringes on its national sovereignty.
Airbus has claimed that Beijing blocked purchases of its aircraft in a retaliatory move, and India says that it could follow suit in barring its airlines from participating in the ETS.
In response, the EU has threatened sanctions against airlines that fail to comply with the ETS by mid-June, while also pledging to amend its legislation if a global deal can be agreed in talks at the International Civil Air Organisation (ICAO).
In mid-June, an ICAO working group is also expected to propose one of four Market-Based Mechanisms currently under consideration as a possible solution to the dispute, at a November ICAO Council meeting.
Insiders say that the China and India are currently blocking the talks, arguing that the UNFCCC principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ should reduce their proportional contribution to mitigating climate change.
But progress has been made and China has shown what one source in Brussels called “signals of flexibility [that are] worth exploring further”.
The EU believes that with political will, a deal could be possible after the presidential elections in November.
Earlier this week, it was reported that two private Chinese companies linked to Beijing’s federal government had begun drawing up rules for an equivalent carbon trading scheme to regulate the country’s air emissions.
In a further sign that tensions over the issue were subsiding, the EU called for China to play a “stronger role” in the ICAO talks.
“It is a strange time to be having this [AEA] conference,” John Hanlon, the secretary general of the European Low Fares Airline Association (ELFAA) told EurActiv. “It’s almost as if they’re shooting across the boughs of ICAO.”
The ETS was “the best thing we’ve come up with until now,” Hanlon continued, “but it would be even better if we could address [aviation emissions] on a global scale.”