India’s Environment Minister Links EU Aviation Scheme to UN Climate Talks

16 April 2012

The EU's controversial decision to include aviation under the bloc's emissions trading scheme (ETS) has been dubbed a "deal breaker" for global climate talks by India's environment minister, Jayanthi Natarajan. While the minister is India's lead negotiator at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) talks, it is not clear if her comments reflect official government policy.

Several countries - including EU member-state France - have expressed concern over the new aviation rule in the EU's ETS, with India and China leading international resistance by forbidding their airlines from complying with the new standards. The Asian manufacturing giants say the aviation scheme overreaches Brussels' jurisdiction and represents a unilateral trade levy disguised as an attempt to fight climate change.

While international criticism has been growing steadily since late last year, Natarajan's comments are the first public comments from a major official to suggest the scheme could influence negotiations at global climate talks.

"I shall stick my neck out and say, for the environment ministry, yes the unilateral measure by the EU... is a deal breaker for the talks," Natarajan said at a meeting hosted by the Energy Resources Institute (TERI) in New Delhi. "I strongly believe that as far as climate change discussions are concerned, this is unacceptable."

The minister added that she has written to Connie Hedegaard, Europe's Commissioner for Climate Action, demanding that the scheme, which affects passenger and cargo aircraft, be scrapped.

Brussels quickly dismissed Natarajan's comments, noting that EU airlines face more financial pressure than foreign airlines under the scheme.

"We do not see how the European initiative is a deal breaker," said Isaac Valero Ladron, Hedegaard's spokesman. "We believe that it aims to encourage similar systems to include aviation in efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."

India played a prominent role in influencing the outcome of last December's Conference of the Parties in Durban, South Africa. With a handful of developing countries resisting the language of the draft text in the final hours of the Durban meet, Natarajan made an emotional plea to not be asked to "sign away the rights of 1.2 billion people and many other people in the developing world" by agreeing to something that could limit their ability to grow their economy.

India ultimately agreed to somewhat weaker language allowing the COP 17 to come to a close.

Climate negotiators are poised to meet again in Bonn, Germany at the UNFCCC's annual mid-year conference. The 14-25 May meeting is the first major climate change meeting to follow Durban. It is not known what role, if any, the EU's aviation scheme will play in the negotiations.

More information

A legal analysis of the compatibility of the EU aviation scheme with WTO law will be published on 16 April on the ICTSD website.

ICTSD Reporting; "India says EU tax a 'deal breaker' for climate talks," AFP, 11 April 2012; "EU airlines emissions law is 'deal-breaker for climate talks'," THE GUARDIAN, 12 April 2012.

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