The Aviation Stand-off

China has announced that its airlines will not be allowed to pay the EU tax on airline carbon emissions that applies to aircraft flying to or from the European Union without the specific approval of relevant government departments. The airlines of China will not be allowed to participate in the Emissions Savings Scheme without similar clearance.

It is the latest   step in an ongoing battle between the European Union, that is determined to make the polluter and emitter of greenhouse gases pay for their pollution and emissions while the airlines are fighting that as resolutely as they can. Already the USA, India and many other nations outside the EU are opposing or complaining about the EU’s “tax” according to their relative strength. China, which is strong, together with the USA is complaining the loudest and their latest move sets up a standoff situation. The USA meanwhile has grudgingly agreed to pay the tax, while pursuing a legal claim that its imposition is in breach of international aviation treaties and therefore illegal.

The tax adds between four and twenty four Euros to the cost of a long haul flight – hardly a massive sum.

No doubt the nations that oppose the EU ETS applying to aviation will think of some retaliatory threat or measure, negotiations will continue and I very much doubt that this will end up in an all out trade war; too many nations, particularly China, have too much to lose.

The point which none of the present rhetoric addresses is whether an Emissions Trading scheme will actually make any difference to emissions. I personally doubt that using the mechanism of the casino, where airlines guess and place best on emissions, inevitably preceded by free credits (the equivalent of free money) as a bribe to keep airlines sweet will actually make any difference to aircraft emissions.

What will make a difference is (a) fewer flights (b) more expensive flights which will mean fewer flights (c) higher efficiency standards in aircraft and (d) ensuring that aircraft spend less time wasting fuel on the runway waiting to take off, or in the air in their infamous “holding pattern” as they wait to land.


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