South Africa on Wednesday urged the European Union to suspend for two years its controversial airline emissions trading scheme (ETS) to allow time for a global agreement on carbon charges to be worked out through the United Nations.
The proposal, set out at a Geneva conference by Pretoria's tourism minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk, won quick backing from a US government representative and industry bodies from Europe and the Middle East.
"Aggressive unilateralism and extra-territorial measures are not the way to go in an increasingly globalised world," he declared in a reference to the ETS, which has raised a storm of world opposition and threats of an aviation trading war.
To resolve the looming conflict in which many major countries are urging their airlines to boycott the scheme, van Schalkwyk said he was putting forward to the 27-nation EU a "firm proposal" to resolve the issue.
"Given that multilateral negotiating options are not yet exhausted, we call on the EU to do the sensible thing and suspend the extension of the ETS to aviation for two years," he told the meeting, on environmental issues facing the industry.
An EU law that compels all airlines flying into and out of Europe to buy carbon permits to offset their emissions went into effect from January 1, but bills will not be presented until April 2013 to allow time for calculating carbon totals.
On Tuesday, a senior Indian official said his country would tell its air companies not to buy permits or share emission data with the EU, and that it could later ask them to cancel planned purchases of Airbus planes if the dispute worsened.
China has already said its airlines must not take part in the EU scheme and has suspended the purchase of Airbus jets worth USD$14 billion, while the United States has warned of "appropriate action."
GLOBAL SOLUTION VITAL
At the two-day conference, an annual event organised by the Geneva-based Air Transport Action Group (ATAG), US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) environment specialist Julie Oettinger said a global solution is vital.
"ICAO (the UN Civil Aviation Organisation) is the only place where the aviation community will come together and solve this problem," she said. The EU stance is allowing some countries to avoid discussing environmental issues, she added.
Athar Husain-Khan, deputy secretary-general of the Association of European Airlines, warned that the "problem will not go away" if no solution is found before the next full Assembly of ICAO in autumn 2013.
"It would be chaos -- everyone will be confronted with a plethora of separate schemes. That is not a path any of us should want to embark on," he said.
And Andrew Parker, a senior vice-president of Emirates, said the best way to get movement at the 190-member ICAO -- where discussions have been under way for some 15 years -- would be for the EU to agree to the postponement idea.
EU representative Mary Veronica Tovsak Pleterski, director for carbon markets in the European Commission's directorate-general for climate action, told the conference that Brussels could be flexible on the problem.
"Once there is a global solution, we will look again at our law," she said. The EU has always insisted it wants an international carbon charge programme for aviation but says it went ahead with its own in frustration at the long haggling in ICAO.
But the FAA's Oettinger said this promise was "not sufficiently motivating." She added: "We need a stimulus now."
Gravity always wins!