EU carbon aviation law foes press ahead with global alternative

WASHINGTON Wed Aug 1, 2012 7:45pm EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Seventeen countries opposed to an EU law that forces their air carriers to pay for the carbon they emit on flights to and from Europe reaffirmed they want to keep working on a multilateral framework under the United Nation's global aviation body, a senior U.S. official said on Wednesday.

The U.S. State Department and Department of Transportation concluded a two-day meeting of countries opposed to the EU's emissions trading system (ETS) without a joint declaration, but plan to address the greenhouse gas emissions issue within the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

"In a nutshell, the meeting confirmed the very solid and strong opposition to the ETS, but also indicated that there is a lot of interest among countries in continuing to work on the suite of activities in ICAO," the senior U.S. official said in a news briefing.

Joining the United States at the meeting were Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, India, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Nigeria, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa and the United Arab Emirates.

The countries plan to try to implement the goals and actions they agreed to at the 2010 ICAO assembly. These include a voluntary target to cap net carbon emissions by 2020, national action plans, improving air traffic management, and adopting an emissions standard for aircraft, according to the meeting chairman's summary.

There was also broad agreement that they would continue to develop market-based measures that countries or regions could use to curb emissions.

However, the senior official said that, while there was broad support for creating an international emissions trading or carbon offsetting system, work on the feasibility and on implementing such a scheme would take "a substantial period of time."

"I don't have any basis for projecting whether there will be any agreement by the time of the 2013 assembly," the official said, referring to the body's next meeting of all 190 members late next year.

The official said that, although the EU was not represented at the July 31 to August 1 talks, he had briefed an EU counterpart on what was discussed.

"COUNTERPRODUCTIVE" CONGRESS

Observers across the Atlantic remained skeptical about the ability of the ICAO to deliver a global alternative to the EU trading scheme.

They said a bill from the U.S. Senate's influential commerce committee that shields U.S. airlines from complying with the EU law sent mixed signals.

"The senators miss the point. Anyone can call for action at ICAO. It's been a hobby of many for 15 years. So what?" said Bill Hemmings, the program manager of Brussels-based lobby group Transport and Environment.

EU Parliament Environment Committee Chairman Matthias Groote said the Senate bill was a distraction and could impede progress on a global ICAO framework.

"The US bill to allow their airlines to flaunt (sic) EU legislation is disrespectful and counterproductive," he said in a statement. "The EU and the US fully agree that an agreement within ICAO is the best solution, so let's work in this direction in good faith."

Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill's office said the bill she sponsored with Republican Senator John Thune would help, not hinder the ICAO's efforts.

"The McCaskill-Thune bill compliments those efforts quite nicely. It shows the U.S. is serious about addressing the issue," the senator's office told Reuters.

McCaskill's staff expects to make progress moving the bill forward in September, with the goal of putting it up for a vote on the Senate floor.

Meanwhile, a coalition of U.S. business and airline industry lobby groups urged the Obama administration earlier this week to file an action under the ICAO, which would enable the body's council to make a decision in a dispute between members.

The U.S. senior official said on Wednesday that option was "not off the table," but the administration "doesn't have any immediate plans to do that."

(Additional reporting by Barbara Lewis in Brussels; editing by Andre Grenon)

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