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EU Emissions Trading For Airlines Likely To Be Delayed

Security and safety agreements should be a cinch. But the environment is the problem child, the critical issue on which the success or failure of Montreal’s 37th general assembly of the International Civil Aviation Organization rests.

There is broad agreement among the 190 ICAO members on safety and security measures, including the signing yesterday of an agreement by ICAO, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the U.S. and the European Union on sharing air-accident and other safety-related data.

But concerning the third leg of the two-week conference that kicked off yesterday -pollution emitted by the world’s airplanes -it’s a race for time.

With most of the United Nations body’s ambassadors and other top representatives here, including U.S. Department of Transport Secretary Ray LaHood and EU vice-president Siim Kallas, the meeting will devote much of its time and energy trying to head off a European directive requiring all aircraft operators flying in and out of the EU after 2012 to participate in its mandated ETS, or emissions trading scheme.

The EU directive was adopted in 2008, after greenhouse gas emissions from aviation were left out of the 1997 Kyoto Accord.

The scheme is strongly opposed by the U.S. and Canada, and in an interview with The Gazette yesterday, IATA director-general Giovanni Bisignani, whose group represents 230 airlines that account for 94 per cent of the world’s passenger traffic, called the scheme “illegal.”

He said it was impossible to apportion emissions on a flight from Australia to Brussels, for instance; “You fly over 25 countries -how can you tax something that doesn’t happen in your country?”

Bisignani noted, however, that the European Commission has agreed to cancel the directive if ICAO members agree by next Friday on a global reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

Regarding the chances of reaching an agreement by the end of next week, ICAO Secretary-General Raymond Benjamin said: “I am trying to move as fast and as far as I can … trying to get a mandate for a global, comprehensive market-based agreement.”

But ICAO spokesperson Denis Chagnon added that the Europeans themselves may be unofficially playing for more time for fear of placing an added burden on their own airlines in uncertain economic times.

A possible outcome could be to hammer out a general provisional framework deal on emissions that would prompt the EU to agree to delay the 2012 target date by referring that agreement until the next triennial Montreal ICAO meeting in 2013.

Asked by The Gazette if he fears another Copenhagen, where a climate-change conference foundered unexpectedly, Benjamin said “that’s for sure. It cannot be worse than that.”

Montreal Gazette, 29 September 2010