Geneva - South Africa on Wednesday urged the European Union
to suspend its controversial airline emissions trading scheme
(ETS) for two years, to allow time for a global agreement on carbon charges to be worked out
through the United Nations.
The proposal, set out at a Geneva conference by Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk, won quick backing from a US
government representative and industry bodies from Europe and the Middle East.
"Aggressive unilateralism and extraterritorial
measures are not the way to go in an increasingly globalised world," he
declared in a reference to the ETS, which has raised a storm of world
opposition and threats of an aviation trading war.
To resolve the looming conflict in which many major
countries are urging their airlines to boycott the scheme, Van Schalkwyk said
he was putting forward to the 27-nation EU a "firm proposal" to
resolve the issue.
"Given that multilateral negotiating options are not
yet exhausted, we call on the EU to do the sensible thing and suspend the
extension of the ETS to aviation for two years," he told the meeting on
environmental issues facing the industry.
An EU law that compels all airlines flying into and out of
Europe to buy carbon permits to offset their emissions went into effect from
January 1, but bills will not be presented until April 2013 to allow time for
calculating carbon totals.
On Tuesday, a senior Indian official said his country would
tell its air companies not to buy permits or share emission data with the EU,
and that it could later ask them to cancel planned purchases of Airbus planes
from European aerospace company EADS if the dispute worsened.
China has already said its airlines must not take part in
the EU scheme and has suspended the purchase of Airbus jets worth $14bn, while
the United States has warned of "appropriate action".
Global solution vital
At the two-day conference, an annual event organised by the
Geneva-based Air Transport Action Group (ATAG), US Federal Aviation
Administration (FAA) environment specialist Julie Oettinger said a global
solution is vital.
"ICAO (the UN Civil Aviation Organisation) is the only
place where the aviation community will come together and solve this
problem," she said. The EU stance is allowing some countries to avoid
discussing environmental issues, she added.
Athar Husain-Khan, deputy secretary-general of the
Association of European airlines, warned that the "problem will not go
away" if no solution is found before the next full assembly of ICAO in
the autumn of 2013.
"It would be chaos - everyone will be confronted with a
plethora of separate schemes. That is not a path any of us should want to
embark on," he said.
And Andrew Parker, a senior vice-president of Emirates
Airline, said the best way to get movement at the 190-member ICAO - where
discussions have been under way for some 15 years - would be for the EU to
agree to the postponement idea.
EU representative Mary Veronica Tovsak Pleterski, director
for carbon markets in the European Commission's directorate-general for climate
action, told the conference that Brussels could be flexible on the problem.
"Once there is a global solution, we will look again at
our law," she said. The EU has always insisted it wants an international
carbon charge program for aviation but says it went ahead with its own in
frustration at the long haggling in ICAO.
But the FAA's Oettinger said this promise was "not
sufficiently motivating". She added: "We need a stimulus now.