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

August 21 • 4:00 AM

Do Children Help Care for the Family Pet?

Or does mom do it all?


August 20 • 4:00 PM

Why Can’t Conservatives See the Benefits of Affordable Child Care?

Private programs might do a better job of watching our kids than state-run programs, but they’re not accessible to everyone.


August 20 • 2:00 PM

Oil and Gas Companies Are Illegally Using Diesel Fuel in Hundreds of Fracking Operations

An analysis by an environmental group finds hundreds of cases in which drillers used diesel fuel without obtaining permits and sometimes altered records disclosing they had done so.


August 20 • 12:00 PM

The Mystery of Britain’s Alien Big Cats

In a nation where the biggest carnivorous predator is a badger, why are there so many reported sightings of large cats?


August 20 • 10:00 AM

Death Row in Arizona: Where Human Experimentation Is the Rule, Not the Exception

Recent reports show that chemical roulette is the state’s M.O.


August 20 • 9:51 AM

Diversity Is in the Eye of the Beholder

Perception of group diversity depends on the race of the observer and the extent to which they worry about discrimination.


August 20 • 8:40 AM

Psychopathic or Just Antisocial? A Key Brain Difference Tells the Tale

Though psychopaths and antisocial people may seem similar, what occurs in their brains isn’t.


August 20 • 8:00 AM

What the Cost of Raising a Child in America Tells Us About Income Inequality

You’ll spend nearly a quarter of a million dollars to raise a kid in the United States, or about five times the annual median income.


August 20 • 6:00 AM

In Praise of ‘American Greed’

While it remains semi-hidden on CNBC and can’t claim the car chases of Cops, American Greed—now with eight seasons in the books—has proven itself a worthy endeavor.


August 20 • 4:00 AM

Of Course I Behaved Like a Jerk, I Was Just Watching ‘Jersey Shore’

Researchers find watching certain types of reality TV can make viewers more aggressive.


August 20 • 2:00 AM

Concluding Remarks About Housing Affordability and Supply Restricitions

Demand, not supply, plays the dominant role in explaining the housing affordability crisis. The wages are just too damn low.


August 19 • 4:00 PM

Can Lawmakers Only Make Laws That Corporations Allow?

There’s a telling detail in a recent story about efforts to close loopholes in corporate tax laws.




August 19 • 12:00 PM

How ‘Contagion’ Became Contagious

Do ideas and emotions really spread like a virus?


August 19 • 10:00 AM

Child Refugees: The New Barbarians

The disturbing rhetoric around the recent rise in child refugees into the United States from Central America may be shaping popular opinion on upcoming immigration reform.


August 19 • 8:00 AM

Making Police Departments More Diverse Isn’t Enough

Local police departments should reflect the communities they serve, but fixing that alone won’t curb unnecessary violence.


August 19 • 7:15 AM

Common Knowledge Makes Us More Cooperative

People are more inclined to take mutually beneficial risks if they know what others know.


August 19 • 6:00 AM

Seeking a Healthy Public School Lunch? Good Luck

Mystery meat will always win.


August 19 • 4:00 AM

The Positive Effects of Sports-Themed Video Games

New research finds sports-themed video games actually encourage some kids to get onto the field.


August 19 • 1:00 AM

DIY Diagnosis: How an Extreme Athlete Uncovered Her Genetic Flaw

When Kim Goodsell discovered that she had two extremely rare genetic diseases, she taught herself genetics to help find out why.



August 18 • 3:30 PM

Mister Rogers’ Heart-Healthy Neighborhood

Researchers find living in a friendly, cohesive neighborhood lowers seniors’ chances of having a heart attack.


August 18 • 2:00 PM

Wealth or Good Parenting?

Framing the privileges of the rich.


August 18 • 12:00 PM

How Much Did the Stigma of Mental Illness Harm Robin Williams?

Addiction treatment routinely fails people with mental illnesses, while mental health care often ignores addiction. And everywhere, stigma is rife. Can a tragic death prompt a more intelligent approach?


Follow us


Diversity Is in the Eye of the Beholder

Perception of group diversity depends on the race of the observer and the extent to which they worry about discrimination.

Psychopathic or Just Antisocial? A Key Brain Difference Tells the Tale

Though psychopaths and antisocial people may seem similar, what occurs in their brains isn’t.

Common Knowledge Makes Us More Cooperative

People are more inclined to take mutually beneficial risks if they know what others know.

How a Shift in Human Head Shape Changed Everything

When did homo sapiens become a more sophisticated species? Not until our skulls underwent "feminization."

Journalists Can Get PTSD Without Leaving Their Desks

Dealing with violent content takes a heavy toll on some reporters.

The Big One

One in two full-time American fast-food workers' families are enrolled in public assistance programs, at a cost of $7 billion per year. July/August 2014 fast-food-big-one
Subscribe Now

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