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EU airlines pay for less than a third of the CO2 emissions they generate

European Union airlines pay less than a third of the CO2 emissions they generate annually. These are data from the year 2019. And why does this happen? 70% of the CO2 equivalent emissions of European Union airlines occur outside EU airspace, so that less than 30% are subject to regulation (which is exclusively European). Result: this allows companies to issue without paying for more than two-thirds of their emissions. This is indicated by a report by Transport & Environment and Carbon Market Watch

These organisations have revealed the total emissions data of EU airlines in 2019. This is the first time that this data has come to light, since until now only the emissions included within the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) were available, that is, those of flights within the European Economic Area: flights that “are born and die” in the EU. The conclusion is devastating: less than a third of total emissions are subject to regulation.

The bulk of the activity of the main companies in the EU is long-distance routes, free of this European regulation. The report states that operations outside the EU account for 77% for Lufthansa; 83% for Air Europa and 86% for British Airways. On those flights, European airlines issued 65.9 million tons in 2019, for which they “did not pay a penny.”

Regarding Spanish airlines, the report states that Iberia launched in 2019 a total of 5.67 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, of which 83% “benefited from legal limbo” due to the lack of a regulatory framework.

Specifically, it adds that the IAG group company was the sixth airline in the EU with the highest volume of emissions and the third in proportion of unregulated emissions.

Regarding Air Europa, the data of the study indicate that it emitted 2.34 million tons of CO2, of which “only” 28.6% were subjected to some type of regulation. For its part, Vueling, with a very similar total emissions figure (2.33 million tons of CO2), recorded a high percentage of regulated emissions (93.9%), as a result of the eminently intra-European nature of its operations.

According to Andrew Murphy, T&E’s director of aviation, after an entire year of airline rescue aid, “Governments need to consider a change of course and focus on making the sector greener. Airlines should be forced to pay for emissions from all their flights, and required to use cleaner fuels.”

Currently, according to EU regulations, airlines only pay for emissions from flights that take place within the European Economic Area. In 2008, the EU tried to include long-haul aviation in the Emissions Trading System (ETS), but the sector pushed to get flights between EU and non-EU countries excluded from the regulatory rules. The argument was that it was going to promote allowing the creation of an international system of regulation of CO2 emissions sponsored by the United Nations that would bring together all the airlines at a global level.

This regulatory system, promoted by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and known as Corsia, aims to keep emissions from the sector at 2020 levels. The problem is that this system will only be mandatory by the States only from 2027 and based fundamentally on the figure of emission compensations, Corsia has generated significant criticism for its lack of ambition and its real capabilities to reduce emissions from the sector.

According to a study commissioned by the European Commission published last week, the Corsia system could actually undermine European climate efforts. According to the analysis, carried out in September 2020 and so far unpublished, it is likely that the system promoted by ICAO will not be able to materially alter the climate impact of air transport, due to its design and lack of transparency and applicability.

In the words of Gilles Dufrasne, policy officer at Carbon Market Watch, Corsia is nothing more than a “cheap excuse” used by the aviation sector to continue acting as before. “Instead of defending it, the EU should oppose the voices of the sector calling for the dismantling of the European ETS,” he says. We must put an end to the exemptions from which airlines currently benefit, including the free distribution of pollution permits. Replacing current policies with the Corsia system would have the opposite effect.”

At the moment, the European Commission is in the process of reviewing its Emissions Trading System (ETS), with the aim of determining whether flights entering or leaving the European Economic Area should be part of it, as well as deciding on a formula to articulate it with the Corsia system. According to a study by Transport & Environment, the replacement of the ETS by the Corsia system in the EU would mean an increase in emissions of approximately 683 million tonnes in the period 2021-2030.

Pablo Muñoz, coordinator of the Environmentalists in Action Aviation campaign: “The EU must show much greater ambition in its policies to decarbonise the aviation sector. To this end, it must not only strengthen the ETS, but also establish fiscal measures such as the kerosene tax, cancel all financing for increased airport infrastructure and promote the use of advanced biofuels with strict sustainability criteria.”

Source: The Vanguard