Menus Subscribe Search

US, EU in Dogfight Over Airline Emissions

• October 25, 2011 • 5:30 PM

Europe forges ahead on tackling greenhouse gas emissions, but the U.S. wants to ground certain rules that affect its airlines.

With the rest of the world’s leaders repeatedly gridlocked in crafting a binding international climate change strategy, Europe has plowed ahead in tackling greenhouse gas emissions. The European Union designed its own emissions trading scheme, and starting Jan. 1, 2012, the piece targeting emissions from air travel is scheduled to go into effect.

The Aviation Directive would slowly cap emissions on all flights landing and taking off from airports inside the EU. However, the system focuses not just on the emissions that occur within European air space, but on those associated with the entire flight to and from European airports.

The idea has hit turbulence — and not from domestic opposition or intransigence by European carriers. American airlines are balking — with the help of Congress.

The case underscores the tough task of trying to address problems that cross all borders — like greenhouse gases — when everyone won’t get on board.

United/Continental and American Airlines sued to block the EU law earlier this year, arguing that it constituted an illegal tax and that it circumvented the International Civil Aviation Organization, a United Nations body created in 1947 to oversee global airline issues. That body, however, has never produced a workable plan to curb airplane emissions. A preliminary decision from the European Court of Justice earlier this month ruled that the EU should not have to wait indefinitely for an international solution that may never come.

Monday night the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would ban U.S. airlines from participating in Europe’s emissions trading. The bill has no momentum in the Senate (and may be an international pressure tactic more than anything else), but the House version poses a perplexing scenario: if it became law, U.S. airlines would be forced to either violate American laws, or European ones.

[class name="dont_print_this"]

Idea Lobby

THE IDEA LOBBY
Miller-McCune's Washington correspondent Emily Badger follows the ideas informing, explaining and influencing government, from the local think tank circuit to academic research that shapes D.C. policy from afar.

[/class]

None of this bodes well for international cooperation on a host of other emissions sources that have nothing to do with airplanes, although airplane emissions have long posed particularly vexing problems for those who would regulate them. It’s been unclear, for example, who should be responsible for emissions over the high seas or how airlines should handle over-flight issues.

“If I’m flying from London to Beijing, and I’m over-flying Russia for a significant portion of that flight, but I never land in or take off from Russia, how is Russia supposed to take account of my emissions?” asked Pamela Campos, an attorney with the Environmental Defense Fund. That advocacy organization, along with a dozen other environmental groups, supports U.S. participation in the program.

“You can very easily imagine the mess around trying to say, for instance, that we’re going to start charging sales tax on flights within the U.S. for the water bottle or sandwich that you buy, but the sales tax that you pay is determined by what state you’re flying over.”

Unable to answer such questions, the framers of the global-warming-focused Kyoto Protocol kicked the problem to the International Civil Aviation Organization, whose officials spent 15 years trying to figure out what to do before the EU struck out on its own.

“As a norm, when you go to a friend’s house to play, you play by their rules, you are in their home — that’s what Europe has done,” Campos said. This is exactly what the U.S. does when it requires international flights into American cities to comply with U.S. national security standards. The EU scheme was upheld in the preliminary decision in part because it doesn’t discriminate between countries of origin or airline nationalities; America’s airlines must comply just as Chinese airlines do.

The only flights that are exempt are those that originate in countries with comparable emissions programs. The goal, after all, is to cut down on the actual emissions associated with each flight, not to levy a fee on each carrier, or to make a legal point about who gets to write international aviation rules.

“I think what’s happening now is that the way this is being seen, we are just completely divorced form the underlying environmental issue here,” Campos said. “And this is being talked about as a sovereignty issue, and to some degree as a tax issue.”

The European system isn’t meant to preclude a grand international solution. But Campos said countries can’t afford to wait for one since the airplanes coming on the market today will still be in use decades from now, and airline emissions are major contributor of greenhouse gases.

“Typically in the climate change context, we’re talking about [projections] between now and 2050,” Campos said. “That seems like a really long time away. Well, airplanes last much longer.”

Sign up for the free Miller-McCune.com e-newsletter.

“Like” Miller-McCune on Facebook.

Follow Miller-McCune on Twitter.

Add Miller-McCune.com news to your site.

Subscribe to Miller-McCune

Emily Badger
Emily Badger is a freelance writer living in the Washington, D.C. area who has contributed to The New York Times, International Herald Tribune and The Christian Science Monitor. She previously covered college sports for the Orlando Sentinel and lived and reported in France.

More From Emily Badger

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

September 19 • 4:00 PM

In Your Own Words: What It’s Like to Get Sued Over Past Debts

Some describe their surprise when they were sued after falling behind on medical and credit card bills.



September 19 • 1:26 PM

For Charitable Products, Sex Doesn’t Sell

Sexy women may turn heads, but for pro-social and charitable products, they won’t change minds.


September 19 • 12:00 PM

Carbon Taxes Really Do Work

A new study shows that taxing carbon dioxide emissions could actually work to reduce greenhouse gases without any negative effects on employment and revenues.


September 19 • 10:00 AM

Why the Poor Remain Poor

A follow-up to “How Being Poor Makes You Poor.”


September 19 • 9:03 AM

Why Science Won’t Defeat Ebola

While science will certainly help, winning the battle against Ebola is a social challenge.


September 19 • 8:00 AM

Burrito Treason in the Lone Star State

Did Meatless Mondays bring down Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples?


September 19 • 7:31 AM

Savor Good Times, Get Through the Bad Ones—With Categories

Ticking off a category of things to do can feel like progress or a fun time coming to an end.


September 19 • 6:00 AM

The Most Untouchable Man in Sports

How the head of the governing body for the world’s most popular sport freely wields his wildly incompetent power.


September 19 • 4:00 AM

The Danger of Dining With an Overweight Companion

There’s a good chance you’ll eat more unhealthy food.



September 18 • 4:00 PM

Racial Disparity in Imprisonment Inspires White People to Be Even More Tough on Crime

White Americans are more comfortable with punitive and harsh policing and sentencing when they imagine that the people being policed and put in prison are black.



September 18 • 2:00 PM

The Wages of Millions Are Being Seized to Pay Past Debts

A new study provides the first-ever tally of how many employees lose up to a quarter of their paychecks over debts like unpaid credit card or medical bills and student loans.


September 18 • 12:00 PM

When Counterfeit and Contaminated Drugs Are Deadly

The cost and the crackdown, worldwide.


September 18 • 10:00 AM

How Do You Make a Living, Molly Crabapple?

Noah Davis talks to Molly Crapabble about Michelangelo, the Medicis, and the tension between making art and making money.


September 18 • 9:00 AM

Um, Why Are These Professors Creeping on My Facebook Page?

The ethics of student-teacher “intimacy”—on campus and on social media.


September 18 • 8:00 AM

Welcome to the Economy Economy

With the recent introduction of Apple Pay, the Silicon Valley giant is promising to remake how we interact with money. Could iCoin be next?



September 18 • 6:09 AM

How to Build a Better Election

Elimination-style voting is harder to fiddle with than majority rule.


September 18 • 6:00 AM

Homeless on Purpose

The latest entry in a series of interviews about subculture in America.


September 18 • 4:00 AM

Why Original Artworks Move Us More Than Reproductions

Researchers present evidence that hand-created artworks convey an almost magical sense of the artist’s essence.


September 17 • 4:00 PM

Why Gun Control Groups Have Moved Away From an Assault Weapons Ban

A decade after the ban expired, gun control groups say that focusing on other policies will save more American lives.


September 17 • 2:00 PM

Can You Make Two People Like Each Other Just By Telling Them That They Should?

OKCupid manipulates user data in an attempt to find out.


September 17 • 12:00 PM

Understanding ISIL Messaging Through Behavioral Science

By generating propaganda that taps into individuals’ emotional and cognitive states, ISIL is better able motivate people to join their jihad.


Follow us


For Charitable Products, Sex Doesn’t Sell

Sexy women may turn heads, but for pro-social and charitable products, they won't change minds.

Carbon Taxes Really Do Work

A new study shows that taxing carbon dioxide emissions could actually work to reduce greenhouse gases without any negative effects on employment and revenues.

Savor Good Times, Get Through the Bad Ones—With Categories

Ticking off a category of things to do can feel like progress or a fun time coming to an end.

How to Build a Better Election

Elimination-style voting is harder to fiddle with than majority rule.

Do Conspiracy Theorists Feed on Unsuspecting Internet Trolls?

Not literally, but debunkers and satirists do fuel conspiracy theorists' appetites.

The Big One

One in three drivers in Brooklyn's Park Slope—at certain times of day—is just looking for parking. The same goes for drivers in Manhattan's SoHo. September/October 2014 new-big-one-3

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.