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Foreign Airlines Resist EU Emission Control Regulations

The European attempt to impose emission curbs on foreign carriers outside its airspace is facing heavy resistance.
By Amiel Ungar
First Publish: 7/6/2011, 8:20 PM / Last Update: 7/6/2011, 11:07 PM

A dispute between the European Union and foreign airlines encapsulates the problems accompanying efforts to reduce greenhouse gases in the fight against global warming.

Europe has traditionally been the pioneer in these efforts and it has compelled its airlines to reduce emissions. While it is highly laudable to be a pioneer, it can prove costly and noncompetitive.

If the European airlines have to invest in pollution cutting devices or alternatively, pay a penalty while their competitors are spared this cost, they are at a disadvantage.

The European Union, both for the sake of environmental policy and to protect the competitiveness of its carriers, wants to impose the mission rules on American, Chinese, Canadian and other carriers.

What the foreign carriers consider illegal is that these emissions will be calculated not only when the planes are over European airspace but for the entire length of the flight. This means that an American jet airliner flying from Los Angeles to London will be charged for its emissions when flying over the United States and international airspace.

The Air Transport Association of America is taking legal action, has already filed suit in Britain and is now petitioning the European Court of Justice. In addition to the costs and unfairness of the new regulations the foreign carriers will claim that the regulations constitute a violation of various aviation treaties. Under these treaties no state can regulate activity outside its own borders.

China also objects to the new regulations, claiming that they are costly and insensitive to the needs of developing countries. The classic position of the Chinese in  all pollution reduction treaties is that since the developing countries have to catch up with the developed world in terms of industrialization they should be exempt from the pollution regulations till they have closed the gap.

Additionally, the developed world has to furnish pollution reduction technologies on favorable terms or gratis to the developing world. If the industrialized countries still want the developing countries to impose curbs on their industrialization they would have to offer compensation.

China has another weapon in its arsenal, namely the fact that its growing air traffic requires new planes and the European aircraft manufacturer Airbus is dependent on these orders. The Chinese, and indeed the airline industry as a whole, have said that it is better that the money go to the purchase of new and less polluting planes than on the proposed penalties. The thinly veiled threat is that if forced  to pay the pollution tax, these countried will simply have to cancel orders for European made planes.

Additionally China has always been zealous about its sovereignty and independence and therefore the regulations will be self-defeating:

"The EU's attempt to force the rest of the world to conform to its own system is sure to undermine the international cooperation needed in the historic battle against climate change.".