ETS and the airlines: Part II The EU follows the tabloid herd


Part I of this report addressed the mounting forces that threaten to afflict relations between the EU and foreign governments, as well as the potential for internal divisions, as sanctions are applied to offending foreign airlines.

Meanwhile though there is an array of other matters that the EU should be confronting first, simply to get its own house in order.

For example there is the environmental disaster of the tangled mess of Europe's national air navigation service providers, which the EU appears powerless to act upon. The thousands of tonnes of unnecessary emissions resulting from archaic flight restrictions caused by this unstructured anti-system is a European scandal, quite apart from costing the region's airlines over USD4 billion annually.

Then there is the irony that, although the Commission has gleefully surfed in on the tabloid tide of anti-aviation sentiment, it has completely overlooked the environmental impact of maritime shipping – despite the fact that, by the EU's own reckoning, it is considerably more damaging than aviation.

Irony #1: A bizarre fact: the EU has targeted aviation years before maritime – though shipping emissions are 50% greater than aviation

Strangely, the EU has yet to take any action whatever to reduce maritime emissions, despite the fact that, in the Commission’s own estimation, they “already account for approximately 3% of global CO2 emissions and they are expected to more than double by 2050.[1]

This is a bizarre contrast, especially as the level of emissions from maritime sources is around 50% higher than from the airlines. It raises significant questions about why the EU saw it essential several years ago to address the lower level of emissions from aviation, while ignoring what it considers the much more environmentally objectionable maritime sector.

Even today, the EU’s shipping voice appears timid, compared with its strident admonishments of the airlines. On 02-Oct-2012, a joint statement by vice president of the European Commission, Siim Kallas, and EU Commissioner for Climate Action, Connie Hedegaard, noted, “At EU level, we consider several options, including market-based mechanisms. A simple, robust and globally-feasible approach towards setting a system for monitoring, reporting and verification of emissions based on fuel consumption is the necessary starting point. This will help make progress at global level and feed into the IMO process. It's therefore our joint intention to pursue such a monitoring, reporting and verification system in early 2013” – and that date may well slip.

The curious inequity of treatment may result from a combination both of politics and of mistaken perceptions. This alone should be enough to cast doubt on how appropriate the EU’s haste was in imposing penalties on the airline industry.

The EU's ETS merely follows the tabloid herd, rather than leading the world as it pretends

The political element, when it comes to aviation, is generally a simple result of the airline industry’s high profile – it’s an easy target and guarantees that any politician wanting to make a point can have the greatest popular impact. Politicians of all colours in Europe have indeed rushed to join the popular throng. The noise is infectious; a couple of years ago, a British Anglican bishop was even sufficiently uplifted by the hot air to describe air travel as “evil”. He had no such devilish feelings about shipping though; the tabloid media had not told him how wicked ships really were.

Aviation is invariably regarded by the populist majority as an activity for elites. Sadly, politicians, desperate as always to please the majority, slip easily into following the local herd mentality.

This sits uncomfortably however with the EU’s proposition that it is leading the world in imposing an ETS on airlines. The reality is that it is merely following the local tabloid political mass.

The elitism of European and EU aviation thinking

This perception of aviation’s elitism is not surprising. Not everyone can afford to fly. But aviation’s impact on economic development is a whole different story – just ask any local board of trade seeking to attract an airline to its local airport; or the airport workers; or a tourism destination country whose economy is founded on having regular air services or attracting inbound leisure travellers.

The populations of many of these other countries tend not to have the luxuries of choice enjoyed by affluent European Union residents. And those others can suffer very quickly, given the sensitivity of leisure travellers to small price increases. Several hundred ETS dollars extra on a holiday flight are enough to deter most family holidaymakers – and can spell the difference between poverty and a job for the destination citizens.

There are many in Europe who, remarkably, believe there is a moral obligation to cut back on aviation. But that has to be the truly elitist – and misshapen – view of the world. After all, Europeans can exist pretty well without air travel. Travel within the community of European nations is readily possible by surface (even with higher pro-rata emissions). To access the rest of the world however, there is no way of avoiding an EU emissions charge for airlines.

The maritime industry seemingly has more clout than the airlines. It is hard otherwise to understand why the EU has adopted a contrasting view of maritime transport. Why should it be more acceptable for European exporters to ship billions of dollars of cars to Asia or hundreds of tonnes of military weapons to Africa than to help tourists to fly there? Or to import oil or coal to Europe? Is that “business” while travel and tourism is not? One sustains Europeans, the other supports other economies.

In Apr-2012, Connie Hedegaard came out fighting: “Why all the fuss about aviation? Why has Europe passed its own laws to make airlines reduce their CO2 emissions? And why don't we have international rules for an international sector? It’s right to ask these questions.”

She might also have asked, “Why have we not made any fuss about shipping? Why haven’t we even started doing anything about it?”

Irony #2: Getting its own house in order first – but it’s a case of Blue Skies, not Single Sky

There is a further irony in the Commission imposing an ETS on the rest of the world: massive and unnecessary additional aviation emissions are being generated as a direct result of the actions of EU governments themselves. Moreover, these are easily rectified, were EU members so inclined.

The intricate and highly unproductive air traffic control mess in Europe’s internal skies has long been recognised as a major environmental disaster, forcing airlines to fly circuitous routes, fly in holding patterns for extended periods, as well as causing extensive flow on costs of delaying millions of passengers each year.

In addition to this environmental vandalism, literally billions of man-hours are lost as a direct result of Europe’s governments’ failure to rationalise the system. And it is costing Europe’s ailing full service airlines around USD4 billion a year!

It’s not as if the EU is unaware of this problem. But it is clearly seen as easier to impose regulations on non-member countries than to force its own constituents into line. The so-called Single European Sky remains no more than Blue Sky.

According to a statement from the EU’s own website on 27-Sep-2012, “EU countries are also supposed to integrate national air traffic control zones into regional blocks to shorten travel times – an objective that was initially meant to be completed by the end of 2012.”

It continued, “But both projects are in doubt. The industry is divided over efforts to reallocate airport slot times, while aviation officials have voiced frustration at the slow progress in integrating national air traffic control zones into regional blocks under the EU’s Single European Sky (SES) initiative.”

Vice President Kallas, to his credit, is making stern noises towards member states, but the reaction to date has been almost complete indifference.

Somewhat similar to the EU Commission’s attitude towards foreign government attitudes on ETS provisions…

[1] European Commission news report, 19-Jan-2012: “Commission launches consultation to address greenhouse gas emissions from ships” http://ec.europa.eu/clima/news/articles/news_2012011901_en.htm

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