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U.S. offers airspace-based emissions regime

Reuters, 25 February 2013

A U.S. proposal for curbing aircraft emissions would exclude time spent flying
over international waters, an approach that some environmental groups say is too
timid in addressing the rise in greenhouse gasses from the aviation sector.

The proposal, seen by Reuters, would cover
just a quarter of aviation emissions, according to some estimates, and is in
sharp contrast to a European Union law that would require all airlines to pay a
carbon fee for the entire flight if departing or arriving at EU

A high-level group of negotiators is
trying to develop a global plan to address aviation emissions and will meet
again next month in talks sponsored by the International Civil Aviation
Organization ICAO.L, a United Nations body.

In 2012 the advent of an EU law requiring
all aircraft using EU airports to pay for their carbon emissions via the bloc's
Emissions Trading Scheme stirred threats of a global trade war. The United
States, China, India and Russia all lobbied fiercely against

Eventually, EU Climate Chief Connie
Hedegaard said the EU would freeze its law for a year to give U.N. negotiators
the chance to agree an alternative global plan.

Shortly afterwards, Hedegaard said
President Barack Obama needed to address global environmental efforts. Obama's
appointment as Secretary of State of Senator John Kerry, a long-time champion of
action on climate change, raised EU hopes.

When in the Senate, Kerry voted for a bill
that would bar U.S. airlines from complying with the EU emissions trading system
but insisted that it also require ICAO to come up with an alternative

To try to accelerate efforts, ICAO set up
the high-level group of negotiators, which includes State Department climate
envoy Todd Stern and the European Commission's director general for climate
action, Jos Delbeke. That group has held two meetings and will meet again at the
end of March.

"The work in the high level group has not
yielded extremely rapid and concrete progress," a source close to the U.S. State
Department said on condition of anonymity.

Those on the U.S. side of the panel have
presented a position paper that focuses on an airspace approach to regulating
emissions. Nearly half of all airspace is over international waters.

Keya Chatterjee, international climate policy director of
conservation group WWF in Washington, said the U.S. proposal constituted a
message to the European Union that U.S. airlines would not pay for anything they
emit outside of national borders.

"I see the airspace approach as a way of
bullying the EU into backing down," she said.

The argument over how to deal with airline
emissions has raged for well over a decade and the European Union only agreed to
make its law extend to all aircraft using its airports because of what it saw as
the failure of international talks.

When Hedegaard announced the EU would
freeze the law, she gave ICAO until the body's next general assembly, expected
to begin in September to deliver a global emissions framework. If not, the EU
would reapply the law to all airlines.

Internal EU flights are still required to
submit carbon certificates to cover their emissions even though intercontinental
flights have been excluded for now, provided the Commission's proposed freeze is
finally endorsed. The European Parliament is expected to back it in

Airlines for America (A4A), the U.S.
airlines lobby, continues to campaign against any market-based mechanism, such
as a carbon market, for the rest of the decade, preferring an approach which
focuses on improving "technology, operations and infrastructure".

"From 2021, a market-based measure can be
a gap-filler implemented by the country of registry where every country will
implement this consistently – that is what we are working toward," said Nancy
Young, vice president for environmental affairs at A4A.