Aviation and climate change

Aviation and climate change

Outline of the Community (European Union) legislation about Aviation and climate change


These categories group together and put in context the legislative and non-legislative initiatives which deal with the same topic.

Environment > Air pollution

Aviation and climate change

Document or Iniciative

Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions of 27 September 2005: “Reducing the Climate Change Impact of Aviation” [COM(2005) 459 – not published in the Official Journal].


The European Union (EU) is responsible for about half of the CO2 emissions generated by international air transport in developed countries. Air transport emissions are likely to increase rapidly in the future if there is no policy response in this area. This situation could compromise European objectives for combating climate change.

In this Communication, the Commission looks at new and existing means and instruments for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the air transport sector.

Tapping the potential of existing policies

The Commission proposes continuing and extending research in aeronautics, particularly under the Seventh Framework Programme for Research. Research will focus on analysing the impact the air transport sector has on climate change and reducing the adverse effects of air transport, in particular CO2 and NOx emissions.

The Commission also suggests improving air traffic management, particularly by implementing the ” Single European Sky ” and SESAME initiatives. More efficient air traffic management should, among other things, enable aviation fuel consumption to be reduced.

Furthermore, in the area of fuel taxation, the Commission takes the view that Member States should eventually remove the exemption traditionally applied to the aviation sector. It is common practice for aviation fuel to be exempted from taxes. Directive 2003/96/EC allows for a fuel tax to be levied on domestic flights within Member States, but it is often impossible to tax fuel for international flights (including between Member States), because of the legally binding commitments made in air service agreements concluded between Member States and third countries. A large number of air service agreements will have to be renegotiated before fuel can be taxed irrespective of the air carrier’s country of origin. The process is under way, but will take time to complete. This option can therefore only be seen as a long-term solution.

The Commission also suggests improving the competitiveness of other transport sectors and raising public awareness of the impact air travel has on climate change.

Developing cost-effective economic instruments: emissions trading

In the Commission’s opinion, of the various economic instruments looked at, the most effective option is to include the air transport sector in the greenhouse gas emissions trading scheme which the EU set up in 2003 (see “Related Acts” below).

The system is based on the following principle: the regulatory authority sets a quantity limit on polluting emissions and divides this quantity among the economic operators producing these emissions, in this case the airlines. The limited pollution rights available give the operators an incentive to reduce their emissions or buy emission rights from other participants if they exceed their allotted limit.

The desired result is a significant reduction in polluting emissions. The large number of participants would also minimise the costs for the economic operators. Furthermore, the system is compatible with the international legal framework for aviation, and could therefore feasibly be extended to operate at international level, if adapted appropriately.

Certain aspects of this instrument remain to be clarified:

  • its scope: in order for the system to be effective in environmental terms, the best option would be for all flights departing from Community airports to be included;
  • how to adapt the existing Community system, which is linked to the accounting system set up by the Kyoto Protocol (covering CO2 emissions produced by domestic flights but not those produced by international flights);
  • how to take other environmental factors (particularly NOx emissions) into account if the system applies only to CO2 emissions.

As part of the European Climate Change Programme, the Commission intends to set up a special working group of experts from Member States and key stakeholder organisations (industry, consumer and environmental organisations). Its purpose will be to look at ways of integrating air transport effectively and efficiently into the European greenhouse gas emissions trading scheme.

The Commission also considered other economic options (a tax on airline tickets and other charges linked to emissions), but these were rejected for a number of reasons, as stated in the impact assessment attached to the Communication.

The European Union and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions

In spring 2005, on the basis of the Communication entitled Winning the Battle Against Global Climate Change, the European Parliament and the European Council reaffirmed the EU’s objective of ensuring that global surface temperatures do not rise more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and therefore of cutting greenhouse gas emissions as much as possible.

As part of the Sixth Community Environment Action Programme, the EU undertook to take specific action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from aviation if no such action was agreed within the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the organisation responsible, by 2002. The ICAO has not adopted any such measures, but has endorsed the concept of emissions trading.

The air transport sector currently accounts for 3% of all greenhouse gas emissions. However, the rapid growth of this sector means that aviation could eventually become the main source of greenhouse gas emissions, despite improvements in aircraft energy efficiency. Between 1990 and 2003, greenhouse gas emissions from international air transport increased by 73% in the EU. If the sector continues to grow at the current rate, by 2012 emissions will have increased by 150% since 1990.

Related Acts

Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 December 2006 amending Directive 2003/87/EC so as to include aviation activities in the scheme for greenhouse gas emission allowance trading within the Community [COM(2006) 818 final – not published in the Official Journal].
This proposal is designed to include aviation activities in the greenhouse gas emissions trading scheme, and is to apply to all flights arriving at or departing from Community airports from 1 January 2012 (2011 for flights between EU airports). Aircraft operators will be responsible for complying with the obligations imposed by the scheme. It is also suggested that the process for allocating allowances should be harmonised across the EU, and that each aircraft operator, including operators from third countries, should be administered by one Member State only.

Directive 2003/87/EC

of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 October 2003 establishing a scheme for greenhouse gas emission allowance trading within the Community and amending Council Directive 96/61/EC [Official Journal L 275 of 25 October 2003].

Council Decision 2002/358/EC

of 25 April 2002 concerning the approval, on behalf of the European Community, of the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the joint fulfilment of commitments thereunder [Official Journal L 130 of 15 May 2002].

Impact assessment

Commission Staff Working Document of 27 September 2005 – Annex to the Communication from the Commission “Reducing the Climate Change Impact of Aviation” – Impact Assessment [SEC(2005) 1184].

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