The rapidly increasing greenhouse gas emissions from aviation have led to pressure for regulation of the sector’s emissions. In the EU alone, aviation emissions increased by 94% between 1990 and 2011, and are expected to rise further. The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) forecasts that by 2036 global aviation emissions will increase between 155% and 300% compared to 2006 levels. Given that demand for air travel continues to grow, the contribution of aviation to climate change is expected to increase significantly.

This paper finds that notwithstanding the incremental steps taken in October 2013, meaningful action on regulating international aviation emissions through the ICAO remains a distant prospect. Thus, the EU must decide on its aviation Directive without the guarantee of a global market-based mechanism being agreed in 2016.

The authors also argue that the strong and uncompromising positions of countries opposed to the inclusion of foreign airlines in the EU-ETS are more related to a realist game of politics rather than to the design details of the policy instrument. The political and legal arguments against the European Commission’s proposal to amend the EU-ETS vis-à-vis aviation emissions, they note, are unconvincing.

Moreover, they argue, Europe should also insist on its own sovereign rights – such as the right to regulate international aviation in its own airspace – and consider ways of manifesting more assertiveness in the future in order not to create a precedent with the retreat in the Aviation Directive case. Otherwise, the EU may become vulnerable to pressure in other areas of regulation with extraterritorial implications, and the EU’s credibility when faced with strong and coordinated external influences might be undermined.

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