EU parliament extends exemption for foreign flights from carbon emissions scheme

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A European Union parliamentary committee voted on Tuesday to extend the exemption of international flights from the EU’s charges for carbon emissions, but only while it awaits the implementation of last year’s worldwide United Nations deal on tackling aircraft emissions.

In February the European Commission proposed extending for an indefinite period an exemption for flights into and out of the EU from having to buy credits under its carbon emissions trading system after the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) struck a deal in October on a global market-based measure for offsetting airline emissions.

The EU had ordered carriers to buy credits for foreign flights under its emissions trading system (ETS) in 2012 but backtracked when countries said it violated their sovereignty and China threatened to cancel plane orders from Airbus Group.

It agreed to exempt international flights until the start of 2017 to give ICAO time to strike a global deal.

“It is sensible that we extend the exemption for international flights to and from the EU until there is greater clarity on the ICAO scheme,” said Julie Girling, member of the European Parliament, who is steering the legislation through the EU legislature.

“However, unlike the European Commission, I believe this exemption must be time limited so that we can be sure that the CORSIA (Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation) will deliver its objectives,” Girling said after MEPs voted on the proposal in the Environment Committee.

Before the extension of the exemption becomes law, the Parliament will have to find a compromise with EU member states in the Council of the EU, which backed the Commission’s proposal to extend it indefinitely.

The ICAO deal was immediately criticised by environmental campaigners and MEPs who say it does not go far enough to curb aviation emissions.

Aviation accounts for approximately 2.1 percent of global CO2 emissions and these are expected to be about seven to 10 times higher in 2050 compared with 1990 levels, according to ICAO.

The extension will have to be agreed by March 2018, when airlines will be required to surrender carbon emission allowances.

Airlines back the ICAO deal, which will not be mandatory until 2027, as they want to avoid having to navigate a disparate number of national and regional schemes.

The fate of the emissions trading system (ETS) covering flights within Europe will also be assessed before the ICAO deal comes into effect, with the EU Parliament calling for it to be merged with the global system, while airlines would prefer to see it dismantled.

Editing by Greg Mahlich