Ah, the phrase "equivalent measures". It pops up whenever people start arguing about - sorry, discussing - the EU's Emissions Trading System (EU ETS). Those airlines to put in place equivalent measures would be exempt from the carbon emissions tax. But what does that actually mean?
The EU ETS directive deliberately, and understandably, avoids going into any detail. But, as Adam Riedel, associate director of the Centre for Climate Change Law, points out, it doesn't even set out a process whereby a non-EU state can formally qualify its airlines for an exemption. Non-EU nations are left to ponder what would work. A similar cap-and-trade scheme or other, market-based system? The large-scale production and use of biofuels?
In China, civil aviation authorities are apparently looking at cutting emissions by 20-22% by 2020. "We are looking at this as a possible equivalent measure, but it's still too early to say," said Isaac Valero-Ladron, spokesperson for the European Commission. However, there are doubts about whether an efficiency measure like this, i.e. not a cap, could be found equivalent to the EU ETS.
Towards the beginning of last year, Nancy Young, Airlines for America's (A4A) vice president for environmental affairs, struck out at the EU ETS. She claimed US airlines had been improving fuel efficiency for decades, as well as looking into using alternative fuels. "We believe our efforts are superior to the EU approach," she was quoted as saying by The NY Times. But, again, it seems unlikely this would qualify as an equivalent measure.
A researcher for the Center for Climate Change Law suggests that "a plan that sets a cap comparable to that imposed by the EU, but that gives away all allowances (rather than just 85%, as in Europe) could achieve 'equivalent' reductions while saving the airlines money relative to the EU plan's baseline".
Whatever airlines go for, any exemption would require approval of EU member state representatives.