Europe: Battle brewing for green airline plan

While Covid occupies the headlines, the EU makes progress on new Climate Law and prepares for battle over whether to delay green airlines scheme

(Stephen Rae is the former Group Chief Editor of INM, Ireland’s largest online and print media group. He serves on the board of the World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and was previously on the board of the World Editors Forum. He was appointed by the European Commission to its High Level Expert Group on Online Disinformation.)

DUBLIN (Callaway Climate Insights) — All the headlines in recent weeks and months have been around how to kickstart economies and business in the face of Covid-19. Behind the scenes however, work is ramping up on getting the EU Climate Law ratified in the European Parliament.

There is widespread support for the law, which will legislate for carbon reductions throughout the EU of 50% to 55% by 2030 and full climate neutrality by 2050.

The Climate Law is expected to be in place in the autumn with its main goals:

  • Ensure transition to climate neutrality is irreversible

  • Member states of the European Union must develop and implement adaptation strategies to strengthen resilience

  • Create a progress monitoring system

  • Provide predictability for investors and economic actors

Other pillars include that the EU maximizes the circular economy, drastically reduces the burning of fossil fuels and increasingly uses renewable energy sources, such as hydrogen, solar and wind power.

The Climate Law also enacts for the €40 billion Just Transition Fund, designed to help companies such as Europe’s steel plants to move from coal-fueled energy to natural gas and, eventually, hydrogen.

The law is backed by most political groupings of MEPs, apart from the extreme right, notably Germany’s AfD.

Observing the social media accounts of parliamentarians across the spectrum over the past few days shows there is now a clamor to get the law, one of European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s key policies, in force by early autumn.

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Separately, MEPs in Brussels are gearing up for a battle with the European Commission to ensure the UN’s Global Aviation Scheme (CORSIA) — aimed at making the industry carbon neutral — remains intact.

European airlines, reeling from the impact of Covid-19, have been seeking temporary exemptions from the UN scheme.

According to CORSIA, global aviation emissions must be capped at current levels (2019-2020) and any growth in air travel and consequent carbon emissions must be offset by payments into carbon neutral initiatives. However, given the collapse of air travel, Europe’s airlines have pleaded that 2020 will drag down the average over the two years and leave them facing massive carbon fines.

So far, the European Commission has listened to the lobbying by the airline sector and indicated it will only take 2019 traffic into account when setting its baseline.

This has not gone down well with Pascal Canfin, chair of the Environmental Committee (ENVI) of the Parliament. He and several other MEPs, representing a cross section of political groups, have written to the Commission saying they “are deeply concerned” by the move.

Their letter says “CORSIA is already extremely far from being in line with the Paris Agreement and climate neutrality objective.” Any changes to the scheme’s goal would “seriously undermine the environmental integrity of the scheme,” they argue.

As a compromise they want the Commission to wait until a scheduled 2022 Review of CORSIA before adjusting the benchmark.

A decision must be made ahead of the general assembly of the UN’s International Commercial Aviation Organisation (ICAO) in Montreal on June 8.

Photo: Alan Stanton/Flickr.