Administration signals support for global efforts to cut aviation pollution, rendering bill to stymie European climate action largely irrelevant

November 27, 2012
Jennifer Andreassen, 202-572-3387,

“WWF called for a veto of this bill and we are disappointed that it passed. However, there is a silver lining here — the administration has appointed high level representatives to pursue a global solution for aviation and climate. The White House now must endorse a global, market-based measure to rein in carbon pollution from aviation. If they do, we are optimistic that the U.S. can work with ICAO to develop a package of policies that will reduce our share of global emissions,” said Keya Chatterjee, Director of International Climate Policy at WWF.

“The signing of the Thune bill is largely symbolic,” said Sarah Saylor, Senior Legislative Representative for Earthjustice. “Implementing it would be a mess that could lead to a taxpayer bailout for the airlines or a potential trade war. We are pleased to see the Obama administration turning our collective attention to the international arena where real progress can be made,” she added.

“Unlike the bill that passed here in the U.S., Europe’s stop-the-clock on its law aims to ‘create a positive atmosphere’ for the international talks,” said Annie Petsonk, international counsel at Environmental Defense Fund.  “Now the spotlight is on ICAO, and on whether the U.S. will step forward with the real leadership needed to drive agreement on an ICAO program to cut aviation’s carbon pollution,” she added. 

“We echo the Obama administration in calling for an international solution, as that is the best way to address the growing problem of carbon pollution from international aviation,” said Jake Schmidt, International Climate Policy Director at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “We are glad that the Administration is signaling its willingness to roll up its sleeves to get that done.”

The groups reiterated that now is the perfect time to make a global deal happen, and they underscored their readiness to work with all stakeholders to get the job done. 



Aviation is a significant source of global warming pollution and is one of the fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions if left uncontrolled.  If it were ranked as a country, the aviation sector would be the world’s 7th largest source of this pollution, which is rising 3 to 4 percent per year.

Europe’s Aviation Directive, which includes aviation within Europe’s economy-wide Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) from January 2012, is a pioneering law that holds airlines accountable for emissions associated with commercial flights that land at or take off from EU airports.  The program is projected to reduce carbon pollution equivalent to that produced by 30 million cars by 2020.

On November 9, the 36-nation Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) decided to form a high-level advisory group to provide guidance on crafting an international program to reduce emissions from aviation, with the aim to adopt an agreement at their next triennial Assembly in September-October 2013. In response, the European Union announced it would stop the clock for one year on the implementation of its law capping the carbon emissions of international flights landing and taking off from European airports.

The preceding developments render irrelevant S. 1956, U.S. legislation signed today authorizing the U.S. Secretary of Transportation to prohibit U.S. airlines from taking part in the European emissions program.  If the Secretary of Transportation were to implement the prohibition outlined in the bill, it would require unlawful behavior on the part of U.S. airlines and would risk igniting a trade war with the European Union. However, the bill also puts the U.S. government on record supporting efforts to secure an international approach to reduce aviation’s global warming pollution.





Chris Conner, WWF, (202) 492-2001

Sarah Saylor, Earthjustice (202) 667-4500

Annie Petsonk, EDF, (202) 365-3237

Jake Schmidt, NRDC (202) 425-1515

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