European airlines are pushing against Brussels imposing tougher emissions rules under the EU’s long-awaited climate package, according to documents obtained by a leading environmental group.
The documents obtained by Influence Map through freedom of information requests show that airlines and industry bodies have been lobbying against stricter European Commission rules for the sector under the EU’s carbon-trading system.
They have also objected to the creation of new taxes for carbon-intensive fuels, using their pandemic-ravaged balance sheets as an argument against tougher regulations.
The industry efforts come as the Commission prepares to unveil a host of green legislation in mid-July as part of its work to slash the region’s emissions by 55 per cent by 2030 compared with 1990 levels.
Lufthansa, Germany’s largest airline and one of the biggest in Europe, wrote in January to Frans Timmermans, EU vice-commissioner for the Green Deal, to complain about the “unlevel playing field” that new rules, such as requirements for carriers to use a certain amount of sustainable fuel, would create.
European airlines last year committed to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, which they plan to achieve using a mix of fuel-efficient aircraft, sustainable fuels, offsetting and new technologies such as hydrogen and electric-powered aircraft.
These commitments have been undermined by the lobbying against short-term climate measures, according to green advocacy groups.
“The aviation sector has communicated high-level support for net-zero EU aviation emissions by 2050 while opposing national and EU-level climate regulation to help deliver that target in,” said Influence Map.
European climate rules put carriers at a disadvantage compared with international rivals, the industry has told legislators, while rising costs will inhibit their ability to invest in sustainable aviation fuels, it has argued.
Industry group Airlines for Europe in October urged officials not to adopt a tax on kerosene for flights within the EU, which the upcoming package will propose, arguing that carriers would fill up in third countries.
The documents highlight the difficulty of reconciling the industry’s global plans with expectations for much faster action within Europe. Iata, the airline body, says that the industry’s decarbonisation plan should be global rather than regional.
A particularly contentious issue for the sector, and for legislators more broadly, is the EU’s planned expansion of its carbon trading system, the EU ETS. The system requires companies to buy credits to cover their emissions if they pollute above an allotted number of free allowances.
The price of allowances has more than doubled from pre-pandemic levels to more than €50 per tonne. The Commission will propose a gradual phasing out of free credits, and costs for carriers are expected to rise.
Documents show that in April last year, Iata requested that the Commission offer “some kind of flexibility to operators which are in a difficult economic situation and unable to comply with the ETS”. In reply, EU officials said the system “needs to be respected”.
Lufthansa said it has a “clear path towards climate neutrality” but that it backs “climate policy concepts that take global competition into account”.
Responding to an EU consultation last year, the airline said any revisions to the ETS “must take into account the fact that European aviation presently faces the most severe crisis in its history”.
Free allowances that were previously given to airlines that had been “liquidated” should be “transferred to the purchasing airlines”, it added.
The industry has repeatedly said the ETS puts European carriers at a disadvantage to other airlines, since it does not apply to flights outside Europe.
While some policymakers have been pushing for the system to be extended to intercontinental aviation, the industry wants those flights to be regulated under its carbon offsetting system, Corsia.
The price of Corsia-eligible offsets remain much lower than EU carbon allowances, at about $2 a tonne.
In a statement, the industry’s A4E group said the documents “fail to reflect the collective actions and investments made by European airlines to address climate change”. European airlines’ targets were “in line with” the Paris agreement of limiting global warming to 1.5C above pre industrial levels, it added.
Iata said it recognised that climate change was “existential” for aviation and pointed to its longstanding sustainability efforts. “But as aviation’s climate change impact needs a global solution, we must object to misguided regional policy measures that could do harm and produce no good.”