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EP vote on including aviation in EU Emissions Trading System - guide

08 July 2008
by eub2 -- last modified 08 July 2008

The European Parliament voted at second reading in favour of including aviation in the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS). The vote confirms the agreement reached between the Parliament and the Council last month. Under the new directive greenhouse gas emissions from flights to, from and within the EU will be included in the EU ETS from 2012. All airlines will be covered whatever their nationality. Like the industrial companies already covered by the EU ETS, airlines will be able to sell surplus allowances if they reduce their emissions and will need to buy additional allowances if their emissions grow.


The directive

The directive is part of a comprehensive approach to addressing aviation emissions, which also includes more research into greener technologies and improvements in air traffic management through the creation of a 'Single European Sky'. A proposal to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions from aircraft is included in the Commission's work programme for this year.

The agreement reached between Parliament and Council endorses the key elements of the Commission's original proposal from December 2006. As well as some technical improvements, there are some key changes from the Commission's original proposal:

  • Aviation will be included in the EU ETS from 2012; a proposed one-year introductory phase for intra-EU flights starting in 2011 has been dropped
  • Emissions from aviation will be capped at 97% of their average 2004-2006 level in 2012. This will decrease to 95% from 2013, although this percentage may be reviewed as part of the general review of the Emissions Trading Directive
  • Airlines will receive 85% of their emission allowances for free in 2012. This percentage may be reduced from 2013 as part of the general review of the Emissions Trading Directive.
  • An exemption has been introduced for commercial air operators with very low traffic levels on routes to, from or within the EU or with low annual emissions (less than 10 000 tonnes CO2 a year). This means many operators from developing countries with only limited air traffic links with the EU will be exempt. This will not have a significant effect on the emissions covered by the EU ETS.
  • A special reserve of free allowances has been added for new entrants or very fast-growing airlines. The reserve does not increase the overall cap on allowances and therefore does not affect the environmental impact of the system. Airlines that are growing will be able to benefit from the reserve up to a limit of one million allowances.
  • A new mechanism has been introduced to ensure consistent and robust enforcement throughout the EU. As a last resort, Member States could ask for an operator to be banned from operating in the EU if it persistently fails to comply with the system and other enforcement measures have proven ineffective.

Next steps

The Council is expected to give formal approval to the directive at one of its next meetings. Once formally adopted, the directive will be published in the Official Journal and will enter into force the same day. Member States will then have 12 months to transpose it into national legislation.


Emissions from domestic flights are covered by the Kyoto Protocol's targets for limiting or reducing national emissions, but international aviation is not. Moreover, historically jet fuel for international flights has been tax-exempt.

Emissions from aviation currently account for about 3% of total EU greenhouse gas emissions, but they are increasing fast – by 87% since 1990. Someone flying from London to New York and back, for example, generates roughly the same amount of emissions as the average person in the EU does by heating their home for a whole year.

On current trends, aviation emissions are likely to more than double from present levels by 2020. This rapid growth contrasts with the success of many other sectors of the economy in reducing emissions.

The March 2007 European Council committed the EU to cutting its emissions by at least 20% of 1990 levels by 2020, and by up to 30% provided other developed countries commit to comparable reductions. The Commission's January 2008 package of climate and energy proposals, now under discussion in the European Parliament and Council, puts in place key measures to deliver on these commitments, to improve the EU's energy security and to strengthen competitiveness (see IP/08/80).

Further information:

DG ENV climate change website

Source: European Commission