One of the world’s two biggest commercial aircraft manufacturers got to write its own rules on greenhouse gas emissions, thanks to privileged access to the European Union’s decision-making process, an 18-month investigation by Brussels-based Transport & Environment has revealed.
“Yes, we can live with this,” a representative of Airbus SE wrote, after reviewing successive drafts of the EU regulation in 2015. The acknowledgement appears in a series of emails T&E obtained, a year and a half after it first requested them.
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The emails “confirmed that when crafting CO2 rules for aircraft, the European Commission—the regulator—gave Airbus—the regulated entity—privileged access to the EU decision-making process and allowed Airbus to determine the EU position,” writes T&E aviation manager Andrew Murphy. “The result is a standard which does nothing for the climate or public health.”
Murphy traces the saga of aviation emissions policy back to 2009, when the International Civil Aviation Organization finally agreed to develop a carbon standard after years of delays. “You can’t spell ‘procrastination’ without ‘ICAO,’” the Flying Clean Alliance warned  in October 2013, during the agency’s triennial assembly in Montreal.
“ICAO convened a group of independent experts who recommended that regulatory pressure could speed up emission cuts from aircraft,” he recalls. “Five years of work ensued, under heavy influence from industry, which worked to make sure the standard would require them to make no changes to their plans.” Those plans would put the industry on course to increase its emissions  by 100 to 200% between 2000 and 2050, even as the rest of the world seeks to decarbonize under the Paris agreement.
Europe “had been leading the charge on climate policy for some years, it had insisted on ICAO action to tackle aviation CO2, and hosts one of the two big aircraft manufacturers: Airbus,” Murphy notes. “But instead of genuinely attempting to push Airbus and Boeing to speed up emission cuts and efficiency gains, the EU executive worked closely with Airbus to ensure the new rules would have no impact. The emails released show how Airbus and the Commission’s transport directorate exchanged notes, and how Airbus was given the opportunity to determine the EU’s final negotiating position on the stringency of the standard.”
Murphy documents the depth of Airbus’ capture of the EU process, concluding that the story reflects two “big flaws” in the continent’s aviation environmental policy: its practice of “outsourcing all action to ICAO”, and its deference to the industry.
“We saw this again two weeks ago when the ICAO Council scrapped 10 out of 12 sustainability safeguards for biofuels in its planned offsetting measure, the CORSIA,” he writes. “This decision was taken in a closed session with the apparent consent of the EU Commission and seven EU member states. Until ICAO changes how it operates, there is no reason to believe it can deliver on its endless promises to address aviation’s climate impact.”