Sometimes the simplest solution is the best, but good luck getting politicians on board when the subject involves the emissions trading scheme (ETS), which was implemented by the European Union on January 1. The EU-ETS is a confounding piece of logically challenged political mumbo jumbo disguised as a lofty goal, the reduction of carbon emissions by aircraft flying to and from Europe. (The EU’s efforts to reduce aviation carbon emissions, it should be noted, are necessary because of agreements made in the signing of the Kyoto Protocol. And, countries that don’t like the ETS are free to counter with their own carbon-reduction programs, although this hasn’t happened yet, and some countries have prohibited their air carriers from complying with the ETS.)
While many provisions of the EU-ETS are needlessly complicated, what mostly upsets airlines and business jet operators is that the EU is assessing a carbon tax on the entire flight—for aircraft arriving in and departing from the participating countries—not just the portion over European airspace. The implementation is much more complex, however, and this is where most of the problems lie.
For example, participating airlines and business jet operators, if they aren’t exempt, have to account for their carbon emissions by using a complex formula that must be audited by an approved agency. That’s like lawyers being paid to advise all parties in a conflict; only the lawyers come out ahead financially.
No one knows why the EU ministers chose such a complicated method to account for carbon emissions generated by the jets that fly into and out of European airports. There is a far simpler method that could be used, and that is to calculate the average carbon emissions based on fuel consumption, and leave it at that.
Actually, there is a much easier way to motivate anyone—airline or individual—to cut carbon emissions: raise the fuel tax. This would have a far stronger impact on encouraging reductions in emissions than the EU-ETS, and it would result in far less hair-pulling and angst, although it would put a few auditors out of work.
But that’s too simple and, sadly, politically impossible anyway. People seem to prefer complex solutions to simple problems, maybe because it looks like more is being done to fix the problem.
In fact, aviation has been on the right track for many years, with turbine engine efficiency improving by an average of one percent per year for decades and projected to continue for a few more years. Why are we wasting so much effort on the bizarre and maddening ETS?
And, will the ETS have the desired result of lowering carbon emissions? That is doubtful, given the projected growth of the world’s airlines. Already, corporate pilots are calculating how to avoid the ETS altogether, by avoiding landing at ETS participants’ airports and overflying European airspace. This avoids the need to participate in the ETS, yet may not have a beneficial effect on carbon output, especially if the avoidance maneuvers add extra distance to what might otherwise have been a relatively efficient trip.