Gulf states support US initiatives against EU carbon tax

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The United States and 16 other nations, including Gulf Arab states, on Wednesday reiterated their “strong opposition” to a controversial EU carbon tax on airlines and reaffirmed they want to keep working on a multilateral framework under the United Nation’s global aviation body.

The meeting, hosted by the US State Department and Department of Transportation in Washington, was called to explore ideas for a global solution to address greenhouse gases stemming from the aviation industry, among emissions blamed for climate change.  The two-day moot of 16 countries opposed to the EU’s emissions trading system (ETS) ended without a joint declaration. However, participants say they plan to address the greenhouse gas emissions issue within the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

“In a nutshell, the meeting confirmed the very solid and strong opposition to the ETS, but also indicated that there is a lot of interest among countries in continuing to work on the suite of activities in ICAO,” the senior US official said in a news briefing.

Joining the United States at the meeting were Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, India, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Nigeria, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa and the UAE.

The countries plan to try to implement the goals and actions they agreed to at the 2010 ICAO assembly. These include a voluntary target to cap net carbon emissions by 2020, national action plans, improving air traffic management, and adopting an emissions standard for aircraft, according to the meeting chairman’s summary.

The next steps include working on a carbon dioxide efficiency standard for aircraft and engines, and to explore the feasibility of whether a single global market measure like an off-setting scheme would work, the US official said.

However, a senior official said that, while there was broad support for creating an international emissions trading or carbon offsetting system, work on the feasibility and on implementing such a scheme would take “a substantial period of time.”

“I don’t have any basis for projecting whether there will be any agreement by the time of the 2013 assembly,” the official said, referring to the body’s next meeting of all 190 members late next year.

The official said that, although the EU was not represented at the 31 July to 1 August talks, he had briefed an EU counterpart on what was discussed.

Observers across the Atlantic remained skeptical about the ability of the ICAO to deliver a global alternative to the EU trading scheme.

They said a bill from the US Senate’s influential commerce committee that shields US airlines from complying with the EU law sent mixed signals.

Despite the opposition to the EU’s unilateral move, a lot of countries were open to or already implementing measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the official said.

Meanwhile, a coalition of US business and airline industry lobby groups urged the Obama administration earlier this week to file an action under the ICAO, which would enable the body’s council to make a decision in a dispute between members.

The US senior official said on Wednesday that option was “not off the table,” but the administration “doesn’t have any immediate plans to do that.”

Under the scheme, the airlines operating in and out of Europe and regardless of the duration of flight in EU airspace are required to surrender varying emission allowances. They are also required to purchase additional permits.

All non-EU nations’ airlines are required to pay an emissions tax to the EU member state to which they most frequently fly.

The EU has said the tax will help it cut carbon emissions by 20% by 2020 and has insisted it will not back down on the plan.

It says the cost for the airlines is manageable, calculating that the scheme could force the carriers to add between €4 ($5.50) and €24 ($29.49) to the price of a long-haul round-trip.

However, a bill is currently making its way through the US Congress which would bar US carriers from participating in the scheme.

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