After a global agreement on carbon emissions trading was agreed at the recent International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) summit - the European Commission (EC) may now 'restart the clock' and re-implement its unilateral ETS scheme. In this guest commentary, Howard Wheeldon FRAeS argues that this move puts at risk the very future of the European aerospace industry.  [caption id="attachment_6001" align="alignnone" width="429"] Emissions have become a key battleground. (DLR).[/caption] Europe’s ill thought-out emission trading scheme which last November had thankfully been placed on hold to allow for international talks under the auspices of the ICAO and that were aimed at securing a longer term global solution to tackle aviation emissions have unexpectedly come down to earth with a bump, due entirely to European Commission (EC) inspired arrogance and vengeance. By turning its back on attempts to achieve a global aviation emissions solution, the EC is saying that it is content to risk permanent and serious damage being done to European aerospace and aviation industries. In deciding to go against the timed, sensible and agreed ICAO process which is aimed at securing a workable global agreement on aircraft emissions by 2016, the EC is showing that it cares little about the potential damage that a single unilateral decision from its Climate Action Commissioner will now do to exports and jobs of EU citizens. At a stroke this damaging decision has put at severe risk the very future of the European aerospace and aviation industries. This is not just me going off on a tangent - it is real. For example, we have already seen how the originally conceived EC unilateral plan to tax all international airlines using or passing through EU airspace caused serious concern in countries such as China, causing them to hold back ordering large numbers of commercial aircraft manufactured by Airbus. Imposing a unilateral plan requiring all airlines flying over, into or within the European Union airspace pay what emission taxes shows that the EC believes it should be international lawmaker, judge, jury and executioner at the same time. It has no right to do that. No wonder that in various parts of the world the EU is increasingly seen for its arrogance and its weaknesses as opposed to its strengths. Why will the EC not even listen to the views of those that its decisions seriously impact let alone learn from its many past mistakes? The reality is that the EC Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) plan never did stack up with European airlines let alone with the many international airlines that would of necessity be seriously affected by the imposition of a ‘European’ tax. In attempting to place unilateral ‘emission tax jurisdiction on countries such as China, Russia, Australia and the US, the European Commission has, in my view, done serious damage to how the EU is seen by the rest of the world. No one nation or group of nations has a right to implement a tax regime on another country or group of countries. By deciding to go completely against what a UN body in the form of what the ICAO has recommended and agreed the EC has put at risk many thousands of jobs in its aerospace and aviation industries. President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barosso must now act quickly to reverse damage done by Climate Action Commissioner, Connie Hedegaard and that could well yet turn to become a very serious international diplomatic issue. By reluctantly ‘parking’ its unilaterally imposed plan at the 99th hour last year and at the very least by putting this on hold for a year, the hope both in Europe and internationally, was that by allowing the matter of aircraft emissions taxes to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) would lead to an international framework for the tackling of global agreement on CO2-emissions from the aviation industry to emerge. At that time I believe EU Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard said in a formal statement following the imposition of a freeze to her original plan that “finally we have a chance to get a plan for international regulation on emissions from aviation agreed” adding that “this is a long sought opportunity that we must use.” Be careful what you wish for, or read into EC statements though, as having agreed to place the issue firmly into the hands of ICAO in November 2012 while the EC appeared content to await the UN body to deliberate intentions at its annual Assembly to be held in Montreal during early October 2013, it was done and said with a degree of reluctance. While placing the EC plan on hold was universally welcomed by EC member states and industry, I am afraid that despite the potential and indeed, real damage that had already been done to EU aerospace exports, the somewhat bitter EC Commissioner, Connie Hedegaard was quick at the time to warn also that “if the [ICAO] exercise does not deliver, and I hope it does, then needless to say we are back to where we are today with the EU ETS”. Nevertheless, I suspect that EU member states could be forgiven for believing that common sense had at last prevailed in the EC and that the ICAO would in due course be given full authority together with a sensible amount of time to bring forward a longer term global aircraft emissions solution. This is in fact just what they had decided to do during the first week of October in Montreal, Canada when, on 4 October the ICAO assembly endorsed a plan that was agreed late during the previous day by its executive committee, calling for the arrival of a detailed plan for the cap-and-trade MBM (Market Based Measures) to be submitted at the ICAO’s next general assembly ahead of full implementation in 2020. In addition, the following day by a majority of 97 votes to 39 the ICAO deliberated that a unilaterally imposed regional scheme on third countries was wrong. At last common sense seemed to have prevailed and the EC’s ridiculous and damaging unilateral plan which has already hurt European exports would be put on hold for three years whilst ICAO attempted to negotiate a global solution on aviation emissions. Europe’s massive and hugely important aerospace and aviation industries are more than happy to sign up to what the ICAO hopes to achieve - a constructive and well thought out international co-operation agreement on how to tackle CO2-emissions that could be put before the 2016 ICAO General Assembly. Now, as stated earlier, the European Commission has backtracked on any notion of supporting what the ICAO agreed earlier this month. It has announced that it will abandon the ‘stop the clock’ approach - meaning it will force through the original unilateral plan of applying EU ETS tax imposition to the portion of international flights to/from the EU that occur within EU airspace. While I doubt that the latest EC missive flying in the face of allowing time to secure a sensible global compromise that everyone wants is the first time that the EC has put two fingers up to the rest of the world, it is in my view one of the worst example of EC arrogance that I have yet come across. It is for two very important EU industries and, for international diplomacy also very damaging and an appalling example of just how the EU and all that goes with it including the EU Parliament and European Commission should not be seen by the rest of the world.  

Royal Aeronautical Society
4 November 2013