To secure ETS compliance, Europe could ban flights for violators

 - January 31, 2011, 7:40 AM

Operators failing to comply with their obligations under Europe’s emissions trading scheme (ETS) could be banned from taking off and landing at European airports. The measure is included in a draft regulation being prepared by the European Commission, which appears to be concerned that the threat of fines alone will not induce full compliance with the cap-and-trade program.

National authorities in each of the 27 European Union member states are responsible for the administration of the ETS, which comes into full effect on Jan. 1, 2012. Operators have been assigned to one of these states for the purposes of compliance. The national bodies can impose fines for failure to register or implement plans for monitoring, reporting and verifying carbon emissions, and for failing to submit sufficient carbon allowance credits to cover flights.

However, in practice, national authorities appear to have been slow to impose fines on the many operators who have already failed to meet deadlines for registering ETS plans. This could well be because many of the authorities themselves have been slow to fulfill their own obligations in areas such as the approval of independent verifiers (see below).

Legally, it would take an EC directive to enforce a Europe-wide ban on takeoffs and landing. EC officials have indicated that the ban would be used as a last resort, after giving noncompliant operators several opportunities to fulfill their obligations.

The next major date in the timeline to full implementation of ETS is the March 31 deadline for operators to submit reports on their carbon emissions for 2010. This needs to be done regardless of whether operators intend to claim free carbon credits for 2012 and is part of the EC’s benchmarking process for establishing annual emissions limits.

In fact, Spanish authorities have unilaterally imposed an earlier February 28 deadline for reporting 2010 emissions. This is despite the fact that, as of press time, Spain had completely failed to accredit any independent verifiers, without which operators cannot complete the reporting process.

Many other EU states have also been dragging their feet over accrediting verifiers. Several consultants have indicated to AIN that some of these states may opt to accept the credential of independent verifiers accredited in states such as the UK, which have been somewhat more proactive. But this approach remains officially unconfirmed, leaving hundreds of operators once more in limbo over how they can meet the unfolding ETS requirements.

ICM ETS is one of the latest companies to be accredited by UK authorities as an independent ETS verifier. The company’s offices overlook the business aviation ramp at London’s Stansted Airport.

Meanwhile, French and German officials have indicated that they will require on-site visits to be part of the independent verification process, at least for the first year of ETS enforcement. It had been hoped that at least the so-called small emitters would be spared the cost and inconvenience of on-site visits. Other EU national authorities have still not made it clear whether they will require on-site visits.