U.S. Airlines Sue to Avoid EU Carbon Caps

jet-smogAmerican Airlines, Continental and United Airlines have joined with the Air Transport Association (ATA) in suing the U.K. over that country’s planned implementation of EU emissions trading schemes (ETS), according to Business Week.

The airlines and ATA sued the U.K. Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change December 16th in British court, saying the rules “violated the U.S.-EU bilateral Air Transport Agreement of April 2007 and the Kyoto Protocol,” according to the London court filing.

The regulations will require airlines to cap their emissions, and buy carbon permits if they exceed those caps. The U.K.-based Carbon Trust estimates airlines could spend as much as 35 billion euros ($50 billion) between 2012 and 2020 on carbon permits.

Nancy Young, ATA VP-environmental affairs, told Aviation Week that “virtually all non-EU states continue to oppose the unilateral application of the EU ETS to non-EU airlines.”

Not Your Pollution

The EU wants to use the ETS as a stop gap measure to control airline emissions until a more comprehensive global solution can be reached. But this well-intentioned action could bump against the realities of international law, which, unlike CO2, recognizes national borders.

The U.S. airlines claim that because the vast majority of a flight from, for instance, JFK to Heathrow, does not occur in EU airspace, airlines taking that route should not have to pay for EU carbon permits for the flight.

A spokesperson for the ATA said the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which is part of the United Nations, is the appropriate body “for establishing climate change targets and measures for aviation.”

The ICAO meanwhile is waiting on the U.N. to take the lead on emissions controls, and the U.N. is waiting on its member states, which turned out a mediocre-at-best agreement this week in Copenhagen.

The airlines’ case could eventually be referred to the European Court of Justice, according to Aviation Week.

The Biofuel Solution

Meanwhile, airlines have begun experimenting with bio-fuels as a way to reduce emissions. And the Boeing 787, which had its first flight this week, will reduce carbon emissions about 20 percent per flight versus comparable airplanes.

BC (Ben) Upham is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He has written for the New York Times, and was a writer and editor for News Communications, Inc., a local paper consortium serving Manhattan. When he's not blogging on green issues -- and especially renewable energy -- he's hiking in the Angeles Mountains or hanging out at El Matador.