EDF decries continued skirmishes in ICAO Council over aircraft pollution caps

November 2, 2011

Pamela Campos, +1-720-205-2366, pcampos@edf.org
Jennifer Andreassen, +1-202-288-4867, jandreassen@edf.org

(Montreal – November 2, 2011)  In a procedurally uncertain action at a United Nations meeting in Montreal today, several countries launched yet another attempt to undercut the EU’s landmark law to control carbon pollution from aviation.  U.S.-based Environmental Defense Fund criticized the meeting as an underhanded effort to paper over legal differences with political posturing.

Over objections of European nations and without open discussion of the text itself, a majority of the 36-member Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) today adopted a declaration urging the EU to refrain from including flights from non-EU airlines in its Aviation Directive, which holds airlines accountable for their emissions from flights that use EU airports.

“The Council’s decision today is one more skirmish in the airlines’ continuing battle to evade pollution regulation,” said EDF attorney Pamela Campos, who attended the ICAO meeting.  “While the airlines may try to claim this is a Council ‘ruling,’ the ICAO president made very clear this morning that the ‘declaration’ is simply that – a political expression of a group of countries that their airlines aren’t happy about having to comply with pollution controls. It is not a legal interpretation, nor could it be under ICAO’s own rules,” said Campos. “Any formal legal action would have to follow very different procedures that were not considered today.”

ICAO’s legal counsel also made clear during the meeting this morning that the Council’s decision is not legally binding, stating that “it is quite clear that any decision taken by the Council … has no obligatory power.”

“Many of the countries voting here are not even covered by the EU law they’re voting against, and the declaration itself calls for action that would violate the Chicago Convention,” said Campos.  “This highlights the clear political nature of the declaration.”

Many of the participants in the meeting, including some who support the declaration, called for ICAO to speed up its work on developing a global market-based system to reduce warming pollution.  “Europe’s action is a first step and an opportunity to stop debating and start reducing pollution now,” said Campos.

A report out today also noted United Continental Holdings spent $680,000 in the past quarter lobbying the U.S. Congress on issues that included enlisting Congress’s help in United’s quest to evade the EU’s pollution controls.  The EU law was found by the Advocate General of the European Court of Justice in a preliminary opinion to be fully consistent with international law, including the ICAO convention.