EU cracks down on airlines for greenhouse gas emissions

Recently, the European Union’s decision to regulate jet emissions within the EU has been backed by a high European Court. The EU law will charge airlines for the greenhouses gases airlines emit during landing and taking off in the EU, and the law set to go into effect January 1, 2012.  According to the European Court of Justice Advocate-General Juliane Kokott, airlines will need to “surrender emission allowances in various amounts, depending on the flight” and if they do not comply with previously set standards, the airlines will face penalties.

While this seems like a great way to curb greenhouse gases in the EU while putting pressure on airlines to reduce their emissions or face stiff fines, many critics of the new law believe that the EU is acting unilaterally and beyond their scope of power. Three American airlines who routinely fly in and out of the EU challenged the law in a European court in 2009. The case was referred to the ECJ to determine whether the plan violated international agreements, and was out of the scope of the EU’s power to enact such law. The US airlines argued that the EU “breached the sovereignty of other countries and violated existing international aviation treaties.”  Additionally, the airlines claimed that the law will not actually lead to less emissions, but only lead to higher fees for passengers, who will pick up the extra costs to the airlines for their fines/penalties.

Is this law a good way for the EU to improve their climate change policy and to effectively reduce emissions? Or, will the law be ineffective in reducing emissions since airlines will continue to emit the same amount of gasses, and simply pass on the extra cost to passengers? Was the EU even within their scope of power to create such a law?


  1. This is an interesting exercise in climate change policy. My first thought after reading the headline was the applicability of the law to foreign carriers who service the European market. Clearly, this will place a burden on them to operate fleets that are in compliance with the new law.

    However, after reading the article it seems that the greatest burden is placed on European carriers. This law is centered on a “Cap & Trade” emissions system. Therefore, airlines with operations that focus primarily in the European market stand to incur more costs–not American carriers who, arguably, focus the majority of their attention on operations here in North America.

    While I can appreciate the concern of any airline which fears increased costs (which will eventually be passed to consumers), the long term benefits of this law are plentiful. The most important, in my opinion, is the emphasis placed on green technology in the aviation industry. This law may be the mechanism needed to force engine manufacturers (like GE, Pratt & Whitney, and Rolls Royce) to invest heavily in research and development for more efficient aircraft engines. In the long term everyone benefits from such technology.

  2. From my particular international perspective, I don’t really see how this decision to regulate jet emissions is much of a change from the general trend of European consumer and environmental regulations, especially vis-à-vis those of the United States: the EU’s taken the lead over the US in these areas. In fact, some argue that the EU is in its own environmental revolution, regulation-wise, paralleling that of the U.S. in the 70’s, while US environmental regulation today lags well behind. Still, the suggestion that the law will not actually lead to less emission is troubling: jets utilize enormous amounts of oil and gas and produce equally great amounts of pollutants. If a “greener” jet cannot be made, the system is not much more than a way to tax polluters.

  3. Travelers who will have to incur this extra cost will probably be outraged, between the increased ticket prices, checked baggage prices, and now carry-on fees. That being said, the extra cost may be the least of the problem. Without knowing anything about the international aviation treaties, it seems that the EU is regulating outside the scope of its power. A major provision of the treaty, in my opinion, would probably be to address this exact issue, so the EU will probably have to amend the treaty in order to go through with its new regulations. Although the EU has pure intentions to curb the greenhouse gases, it should honor the treaty and make sure it does not act outside the scope of the agreement.

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