Challenges and Opportunities: Aviation Emissions and the European Cap and Trade System

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in the Winter/Spring 2013 edition of the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs: The Future of Energy.

On January 1, 2012, the European Union extended its cap and trade system, the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), to include CO2 emissions from all airlines arriving in and departing from EU airspace. The EU has claimed that this unilateral action was in response to the slow progress towards reaching a global deal. However, the EU remains committed to reaching a global solution to the problem of aviation emissions and hopes that including international aviation in the ETS will spur action.

These additions to the ETS led the EU to take positions on a number of important policy issues that remain unresolved in the international climate change negotiations. These include issues such as how to attribute CO2 emissions from aviation to countries and how to operationalize the environmental principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) – the notion that developed countries will do more to reduce their CO2 emissions than developing countries. Moreover, as many of these issues are also applicable to the broader UN climate change negotiations, the success or failure of the ETS approach to international aviation could affect progress in the wider climate change negotiations.

This article outlines how the EU has designed its system to address these challenges. It also provides an overview of the challenges to reaching a global deal on regulating CO2 emissions from international aviation. The final part of the paper considers the current state of international negotiations over avia- tion emissions and suggests pathways forward.

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