758 A South African Airways aeroplane flies low as it is about to land at Boksburg airport on the East Rand. 181110. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu

Amid threats of continental trade wars and further court challenges to the new European “climate tax” for aviation, SA Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk has called on the EU to halt its aviation emission trading scheme for two years.

The European greenhouse gas trading scheme for all international airlines – including SAA – came into effect in January and has sparked court challenges by US and Chinese airlines, along with threats of trade retaliation by several countries.

The scheme aims to reduce the growing volume of climate-changing gases from the international aviation industry, whose emissions remained totally exempt from any regulation until the recent European initiative.

Speaking in Geneva on Wednesday, Van Schalkwyk said action to curb the growing volume of greenhouse gases from aircraft was long overdue, but he warned that the EU’s unilateral measures could lead to a “whirlwind of confrontation”.

The former SA environment minister was speaking at a meeting organised by the aviation industry lobby group, the Air Transport Action Group.

Van Schalkwyk said emission reduction targets set by the aviation industry were a promising start, but “words on paper” were not enough.

“We are looking to the aviation industry to take these targets more seriously,” he said, adding that a legally-binding global scheme to limit aviation emissions was overdue.

However, the “aggressive unilateralism” of the EU move had left a “fairly bitter aftertaste”.

The strong reaction it had triggered across the world, including threats of a trade war, therefore did not come as a big surprise, he added.

While he understood the EU’s frustration with “15 years of intransigence” within the International Civil Aviation Organisation, multilateral action was preferable to unilateralism.

“If the EU is committed to a global solution and if the rest of the world is committed to providing new political momentum to negotiations under International Civil Aviation Organisation, which I believe they are, there may be very good reasons for the EU to suspend (the aviation emissions scheme) for two years.

“I believe the EU should go the extra mile and give the negotiating parties a fair chance to conclude negotiations on a global, sectoral emissions scheme...

“We call on the EU to do the sensible thing and suspend the scheme for two years.”

But the EU has shown no signs of backing off, despite similar concerted attacks by several governments during the world climate summit in Durban in 2011.


All airlines which land or take off from European airports have to join the scheme, which provides for progressively-stricter costs and penalties for airlines which fail to reduce emission levels.

Though the precise cost implications vary according to the performance of each airline, the EU argued that the scheme’s effect on ticket prices would be minor, or roughly e12 (R120) extra for a London to New York ticket.

The European Commission estimated that aviation emissions made up about 3 percent of the EU’s total greenhouse gas emissions, and that emissions had doubled since 1990.

While this percentage appeared modest, the commission estimated that the new trading scheme could lead to an overall reduction equivalent to double the entire annual emissions from Austria.

The aviation sector alone was forecast to become the second largest emission sector in the EU.

However, the Air Transport Action Group and other aviation industry lobbies argued that the net effect of the scheme was to tax flights, not just for the portion of time spent in EU skies, but also as they passed through the sovereign territory of non-EU countries.

They also claimed that the EU had not provided any indication of how it would use the revenues generated to address climate change.

“The airline industry, led by the International Air Transport Association, together with its partners, are calling instead for an equitable global carbon emissions scheme to be implemented under the auspices of the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organisation, which is the only body mandated to set global regulatory standards for civil aviation,” International Air Transport Association spokesman Linden Birns said. - The Mercury