Intercontinental flights to stay exempt from paying for CO2 emissions in the EU until 2020

  • CO2 emissions from intercontinental flights to stay out of EU Emission Trading System until 2020
  • Airlines to go on paying  for CO2 emissions from intra-EU flights only
  • Emission trading revenues  to be earmarked for climate action

Airlines would remain exempt from paying for CO2 emissions from intercontinental flights until 2020 under plans backed by MEPs on Wednesday.

MEPs voted to prolong the intercontinental exemption from EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) rules until December 2020, pending the introduction of a worldwide scheme to offset CO2 emissions from air transport.

However, from 2021 onwards, the aviation sector should receive only half of its EU ETS allowances for free, say MEPs, as against 85% today.

Parliament also wants EU member states to earmark revenue from the auctioning of emission allowances for climate change policies.

The European Commission will have to report on the setting up of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)’s global scheme (Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation – CORSIA) and if necessary, propose to amend, delete or extend the intercontinental flight exemption.


It is sensible that we extend the exemption for international flights to and from the EU until there is greater clarity on the ICAO scheme. However, unlike the European Commission, I believe this exemption must be time limited so that we can be sure that the CORSIA will deliver its objective”, said lead MEP Julie Girling (ECR, UK).

Aviation contributes 1.3% of global CO2 emissions and that will increase significantly over the coming decades unless effective action is taken. The EU is already leading the way on tackling this issue and we must not let the pace slacken. As the rapporteur for EU ETS phase IV, I am well aware of the need for the aviation sector to do its fair share for emissions reduction” she added


MEPs introduced an amendment to ensure that in the event of a hard Brexit, EU ETS CO2 allowances given free or auctioned by the UK to airlines and stationary installations cannot be used for compliance. The amendment would function as a safeguard against UK allowances flooding the ETS market.

Next steps

The report was approved by 601 votes to 69, with 26 abstentions. Parliament referred the file back to the Environment Committee, so that the EU co-legislators, Parliament and Council of Ministers, can negotiate a common text at the reading once the latter has decided its own position on the file.

Quick facts

Aviation accounts for approximately 2.1% of global CO2 emissions, and intercontinental flights account for around 1.3%. ICAO projections suggest that growth in air traffic will mean that CO2 emissions in 2050 are seven to ten times higher than in 1990. Within the EU, direct CO2 emissions from aviation account for about 3% of total emissions.

The EU was the world’s first region to address CO2 emissions from international aviation, by including aviation in the EU ETS, with effect from 1 January 2012. However, the USA and other nations opposed the inclusion of intercontinental flights in the EU ETS.

The application of the ETS to intercontinental flights was temporarily suspended, until the end of 2016, to allow the ICAO to develop global emission-reduction measures and avoid conflicts with international trading partners.

In October 2016, the ICAO approved a global market-based measure (GMBM), which is to take effect in 2021. In February 2017, the EU Commission proposed a regulation to prolong the exemption for intercontinental flights, gradually reduce the number of aviation CO2 allowances from 2021 onwards, and prepare to implement the GMBM.


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