Plans to charge non-EU airlines flying to Europe under the emissions trading scheme have been postponed for a year.

Countries such as the US, China, India and Russia have been threatening a trade war over the EU’s implementation of ETS, which took effect earlier this year with airlines due to hand over carbon permits for their emissions in April 2013.

But the EU today said it would suspend implementation of ETS for flights “to and from non-European countries until after the ICAO General Assembly next autumn”. Although flights within the EU’s 27 member countries will still be included in ETS as planned.

Connie Hedegaard, the EU’s commissioner for climate action, said the decision had been made to “stop the clock for one year” on ETS following a positive meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO)’s council last week.

“Finally we have a chance to get an international regulation on emissions from aviation,” said Hedegaard. “This is a long sought for opportunity that we must use. This is progress but actually to get there, a lot of tough negotiations lie ahead of us.”

She warned that if the ICAO process “does not deliver” then the EU would resort to imposing its previous ETS policy “automatically”.

“Stopping the clock creates space for the political negotiations and demonstrates confidence on the side of the EU that together with international partners we will succeed in ICAO to agree on meaningful international action,” said the EU in a statement

“This means the ICAO process is allowed time until the 2013 Assembly in September/October next year and that no compliance will be expected as regards air traffic outside the EU in the interim.

“It goes without saying that in the unlikely event of the ICAO Assembly failing to move forward the EU ETS legislation would be applied in full again from 2013 onwards.”


Report by Rob Gill