EU hails ICAO plan for global green tax on aviation

Lufthansa jet landing in Frankfurt, file pic
Image caption The EU's own aviation emissions tax is on hold pending a global deal

The EU and its critics are both claiming victory in the battle over green taxes on flights to and from Europe, after a deal was struck.

The world's governments agreed that all airlines should join a global scheme to cut carbon emissions. But details will not be negotiated until 2016.

There is still pressure on the EU to delay imposing its Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) on aviation.

The EU said its leadership had led to the deal, but greens disputed that.

Environmentalists accused the EU of caving in to pressure.

The new deal was reached on Friday after long negotiations in the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

It ends for the first time the notion of exceptionalism that has been cultivated by the industry.

The aviation sector will attempt to negotiate by 2016 a market-based mechanism (taxes, tradeable permits or carbon offsets) to tackle emissions from flying.

Technical innovations will play a part too. The deal will be in place by 2020, when the new UN climate deal - not yet negotiated - is due to start.

Mixed reaction

An EU spokesman told BBC News: “It’s a very positive outcome. After more than 15 years of talks we got a deal. The reality is, if it hadn’t been for EU pressure [through extending the ETS to aviation] this probably wouldn’t have happened.”

Paul Steele, executive director of the industry-wide Air Transport Action Group, said it was "clearly an historic resolution".

"It represents significant progress. We now have agreement on a global scheme and a timeline and the building blocks to deliver it.”

But there was fierce resistance from some nations in the ICAO to curbing aviation emissions, especially from emerging economies with big territories like Brazil, China and India. And developing countries, particularly in Africa, have secured what appears to be a complete get-out clause.

Bill Hemmings from the green group Transport & Environment said: “The EU ETS, the only international measure that actually reduces emissions from international aviation, has been hamstrung by ICAO delegates more interested in evading responsibility than protecting the environment. The text is full of holes… exactly what it was supposed to avoid.”

Samantha Smith from the environmental group WWF said “the science is clearer than ever - 2020 is too late".

Last month the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said there was convincing evidence that human activity was causing global warming.

"Right after the recent IPCC release, this was the first chance for governments in ICAO to take decisive action, and they failed,” Ms Smith said.

It is not clear what happens now to the ETS aviation scheme. Plans to extend it to aircraft were previously put on hold, as the EU compromised to avoid a trade war.

The ICAO meeting voted to prohibit any nation imposing its own scheme without a global agreement. But the EU is not convinced that this vote is binding and a spokesman told me there would be discussions in coming weeks over the way ahead.

This agonised process for just one sector indicates just how hard it will be to get a global deal on greenhouse gas emissions that the UN expects in 2020.

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