Campaigners urge EU to rethink green investment label for aviation

A plane is seen during sunrise at the international airport in Munich
A plane is seen during sunrise at the international airport in Munich, Germany, January 9, 2018. REUTERS/Michaela Rehle

BRUSSELS, Feb 17 (Reuters) - Campaign group Transport & Environment on Friday urged the European Union to rethink plans to label certain aviation investments as green, arguing this risked "greenwashing" thousands of planes as a row heats up over climate regulation.

The European Commission is split over how to how to handle aviation in the EU's "taxonomy" list of climate-friendly investments, with some officials backing the idea on condition investments meet certain environmental standards and others opposed to giving any green badge to a high-carbon sector.

The debate centres on recommendations made by EU advisers last year, which said Brussels should give a climate-friendly label to "best in class" currently-produced aircraft if they replace an older, less fuel-efficient plane in the fleet.

Transport & Environment (T&E) co-led the group of EU advisers that crafted the recommendations, along with planemaker Airbus (AIR.PA), and had initially supported the criteria. It resigned as EU advisers along with other non-profit groups in September, following an EU decision to label gas and nuclear energy investments green.

On Friday, T&E told Reuters it had accepted the recommendations last year on the grounds that some progress was better than none. But now that the Commission was reviewing them, there was an opportunity to improve the criteria.

In a statement, it said around 90% of Airbus's order book, or more than 7,000 planes, would be eligible as "best in class" under the criteria, although they would only get the green label if they replace an existing plane.

"Sticking a green investment label on thousands of highly polluting planes is an act of pure greenwashing," said T&E aviation director Jo Dardenne.

T&E said the 15-20% emissions saving offered by more efficient planes was too small and urged Brussels to only endorse technologies with "true emissions reduction potential", such as zero-emission aircraft and sustainable fuels.

Airbus has said its planes provide emissions savings of 20-25%, and a shift to the latest aircraft could make a significant dent in emissions - since some 75% of the existing world fleet is older-generation.

Mass-production of breakthrough technologies is still years away. Airbus has said it aims for a small hydrogen-powered passenger plane to enter commercial service in 2035, while most attention focuses on sustainable fuels that remain scarce.

The aviation industry is lobbying Brussels to accept the advisers' recommendations, warning that excluding it would hurt the sector's ability to raise money for cleaner technologies.

"It is key that air transport is included in the EU taxonomy to support the full decarbonisation of the air transport industry," an Airbus spokesperson said.

A European Commission spokesperson said it was assessing the advisers' criteria and had not taken a final decision.

Reporting by Kate Abnett and Tim Hepher; Editing by Susan Fenton

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