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Emissions scheme opponents mull retaliation

The EU's decision to include airlines in its emissions trading scheme is ruffling feathers outside the bloc. The 26 countries united against the new rules are meeting in Moscow to discuss their options.

They're being called the coalition of the unwilling. The 26 countries opposed to the European Union's new emissions trading rules for aviation are meeting in Moscow on Tuesday and Wednesday to debate their counterattack.

In addition to hosts Russia, the group of critics includes representatives from heavyweights like China, India and the United States. The EU's Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) went into effect for airlines on January 1. It requires airlines to buy carbon emission permits for routes operating via Europe and affects carriers in 62 countries.

An air traffic controller directs an airplane at Frankfurt Airport

The countries hope to put a stop to the EU's scheme

A draft discussion paper seen by Reuters referred to potential retaliatory measures. These included halting international aviation talks or other trade talks between the EU and non-EU countries, and rejecting any EU requests for new air routes.

The disgruntled countries could also launch a formal dispute with the United Nations' International Civil Aviation Oranization (ICAO), pass laws banning airlines from participating or charge fees for European flights.

The Chinese government has already said it would not allow Chinese airlines to comply with the ETS and allegedly threatened to scuttle billions of euros worth of orders with the French-German airplane manufacturer Airbus.

Speaking to DW, Bill Hemmings, an aviation expert at the green lobby group Transport and Environment in Brussels, dismissed these threats as "desperate measures."

He said targeting European carriers with extra fees would be discriminatory and illegal under international law, while renegotiating air traffic rights would be cumbersome and ineffective.

"I'd say these sorts of so-called retaliatory measures are hot air and they're signs of desperate men," Hemmings said. "They're not going to lead to much or they'll lead to everyone cutting off their nose to spite their face."

The EU forges ahead

The EU's opponents argue that measures to cut aviation emissions should be dealt with by ICAO at an international level. The EU says it decided to act alone after watching efforts to reach a global airline emissions deal languish for years at ICAO.

Ahead of the Moscow meeting, the EU's climate chief, Connie Hedegaard, challenged ETS detractors to propose an alternative solution.

EU's climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard

Hedegaard says the EU won't back down on the ETS

"We know what you don't like, but what's your constructive proposal for a global agreement on aviation?" Hedegaard asked in a message posted through Twitter.

Late last year the EU's top court dismissed a challenge to the ETS brought by US airlines, saying the extension of the scheme to non-European carriers countries did not infringe international law or the open-skies agreement.

Since the rules came into force on January 1, international carriers backed by their governments have promised retaliation .The dispute has also spurred ICAO to action.

"Now the secretary general is running around like a mad man trying to get a global deal outline sorted out in about six months," said Hemmings.

"While we're glad that all of a sudden they've woken up…now all these people who have been opposing it are going to have to put their money on the table."

A growing source of emissions

There's still time for the EU and its airline opponents to work out a deal. Under the ETS, airlines' total emissions won't be added up until the end of the year.

For now the airlines are given 82 percent of the EU's certificates for free. They'll have to bid on 15 percent of the certificates and another 3 percent will be kept in reserve for new airlines.

Airlines that emit more than their share of certificates permit face a charge of 100 euros ($133) per metric ton of CO2 or even the possibility of a flight ban.

The idea is to keep the emissions linked to air travel in check.

In the EU, such emissions have almost doubled since 1990. For every kilogram of kerosene that an airplane burns, about 3.15 kilograms of CO2 are produced. A roundtrip flight from Brussels to New York, for example, would produce an estimated 800 kilograms of CO2 per passenger.

Worldwide about 2.2 percent of all the CO2 linked to human activity is attributed to air travel.  However, aviation is one of the fastest growing sources of emissions and it is thought to have a greater impact at high altitudes on the climate than the CO2 it releases.

Author: Holly Fox / Ralf Bosen
Editor: Nathan Witkop

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