For the last few years, the world has been going green — embracing everything environmentally-friendly from cars to lightbulbs. Obama, too, has made promises, citing in his Inaugural Address that climate change is a high-priority in his second term. However, reversing the effects of climate change is global effort, and it seems that the world is disagreeing one on major aspect: aviation’s carbon footprint.
Last fall, amid many a Congressional disagreement, Democrats, Republicans and Obama were able to agree on one bill: the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme Prohibition Act of 2011. The law bans American airlines from partaking in the European Union (EU) Emissions Trading System, Europe’s method of curbing carbon emissions. According to the eight-year-old EU Emissions Trading System, European power plants and manufacturers have to pay a fine if they exceed carbon emission rates. This year, the aviation sector was also set to begin paying for emissions produced during flights in and out of EU airports.
After American, Indian and Chinese airlines and governments threw a fit, the European Commission delayed the aviation sector’s joining for one year, allowing those governments to come up with a more feasible course of action. Next September, the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization is holding a multinational meeting in order to sort the issue.
Most people don’t know that airline travel is a large contributor to carbon dioxide emissions. A round-trip flight from New York to Europe is equal to emitting 2-3 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The typical American adds almost 19 tons of carbon dioxide per year, while the typical European adds 10. Currently, air travel emissions make up 5% of global warming; and that statistic is slated to increase, as the amount of air travel will surpass achievements in flight fuel efficiency.
Though the airline sector has successfully avoided paying any monetary fees for its emissions, that seems to be changing. Last year, US airlines made their case in front of the European Court of Justice, poorly arguing that EU’s taxing emissions on trans-Atlantic flights was illegitimate because those flights flew into international space.
It really is a matter of money. Though the price of carbon credits is currently at an all time low, those prices could skyrocket, increasing ticket prices and lowering US aviation sector’s profits. The trade group for American carriers, Airlines for America, has suggested a plan in which all flights until 2020 will have set emission rates, and any fines will be determined later — such a plan might help to ease the financial burden. Though analysts’ insights vary, the real test will be how Obama follows through on his climate-change-promise, and how the US will engage with the issue in the international arena.
Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan
February 18, 2013
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