Hedegaard: Aviation emissions first test of Obama II
By Brian Beary in Washington | Friday 01 March 2013
How the US acts in the international talks for a global accord to stem aviation emissions will be first test of President Barack Obama's recent pledges to tackle climate change. This, at least, was the analysis of Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard, briefing journalists on 28 February at the start of a five-day visit to Washington and Boston. "The US and EU should be on the same side working for the obvious," she said, adding it was "common sense" that air travellers should pay for their pollution. The pressure is mounting as countries try to cobble together a deal by September at the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) in Montreal, Canada. "There is no better chance for many, many years," she said. While she backed proposals to raise fuel efficiency standards, she added "we of course want a global, market-based mechanism". She said that a "departing flights approach" was preferable to an "airspace approach" as the latter would only cover a "relatively small proportion of global aviation emissions" given that emissions released over the high seas would be excluded.
Under pressure from the US Congress, which in turn was lobbied heavily by the US airline industry, President Obama, in November 2012, signed the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) Prohibition Act. That empowers his administration to bar US carriers from participating in the EU ETS. The member states were supposed to start collecting emissions fees from all airlines that depart from, or land at, EU airports in April 2013. However, in order to boost the chances of success of the ICAO talks, Hedegaard postponed that deadline until September 2013 by inserting a 'stop the clock' clause to the ETS. But "if nothing is achieved in ICAO, then the EU legislation will automatically enter back into force," she warned. If the negotiators at ICAO do agree to set up a global cap and trade scheme, they will then have to figure out whether Europe can continue applying its ETS while that global mechanism is being set up.
While in Washington, Hedegaard was due to meet with Congressman Henry Waxman (Democrat, California) and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (Democrat, Rhode Island), both strong advocates of action to address climate change. Also on her itinerary were meetings with Michael Froman, President Obama's top international economic affairs advisor, and with US Special Envoy on Climate Change Todd Stern. Asked what specifically she wanted the second Obama administration to do on climate change, the commissioner said "we are in a listening mode," adding "we are going to ask them what they plan to do". The key question was "are the emissions going down," she said. Obama's recent promises to tackle climate change - in his election night, inauguration and 'State of the Union' speeches - were "sweet music to European ears," she noted. Obama has vowed to take executive action should - as most observers expect - Congress continue to decline to pass climate legislation. Hedegaard warned that "there are some limitations" to relying solely on administrative powers - for starters, Congress could move to curtail those same powers.
ANTI-KEYSTONE PIPELINE PLEA
Probably the biggest decision facing Obama in the months ahead on energy-climate policy is whether to approve the Keystone oil pipeline, which would transport high-emission tar sands from Alberta, Canada, to Texas. The signal that Obama should convey to the world on Keystone, said Hedegaard, was: "We could make this pipeline, but we do not think that is an investment that would pay off in the world we are living in, because we want to give priority to other sources". Commenting on the shale gas boom in the US, she said it was "good" that this was helping emissions to fall in the US. But she pointed out that in 2011, US emissions per capita still stood at 17.3 tonnes, compared to 7.3 tonnes per capita in Europe. She urged the US to phase out the use of hydrofluorocarbons, a powerful greenhouse gas that has become an alternative to ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons, which were banned under the 1987 Montreal Protocol.