No emissions trading without U.S., China: Canada’s Transport Minister

Canada will not bend to Europe’s aviation emissions trading system, Transport Minister Denis Lebel said Wednesday, but not because of pressure from the airline lobby.

“When China and the U.S., which together emit about 40 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gases, are not party to a protocol, I can’t say this protocol is one of my objectives,” Lebel said on the sidelines of the fifth annual International Transport Forum organized by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Lebel said he would meet European Union Transport Minister Siim Kallas at the forum this week to discuss the issue, suggesting Canada may seek EU approval for its airline emissions system.

“When Mr. Kallas tells me ‘If you improve your Canadian performance, we’re ready to recognize you here in Europe,’ it’s in that spirit that we must continue bilateral discussions.

“But we believe it would be better to speak through an international organization,” Montreal’s International Civil Aviation Organization.

The EU’s cap-and-trade system for aircraft, known as ETS, came into effect on Jan. 1 over the vehement objections of airlines and many countries.

The scheme stipulates that all aircraft landing at European airports are subject to cap-and-trade regulations.

Airlines and countries in opposition say that ICAO is the only legitimate forum with the mandate to enact such changes.

But European transport officials reply that they were forced to move on their own to curb aviation emissions.

They blame ICAO’s foot-dragging on behalf of the airline lobby for 15 years since the Kyoto accord, which left out aviation in deference to its complexity and extraterritorial reach on the understanding the Montreal UN body would enact a plan. It still hasn’t, and the next meeting at which some action could be taken is not until late 2013 in Montreal.

Recent reports indicate Europe’s unilateral move has had minimal impact on the world’s airlines.

ICAO officials say that getting 190 members with vastly different economic and financial situations to agree on anything is complicated and takes time.

Roberto Kobeh Gonzalez, president of the council of ICAO, told The Gazette in a recent interview that the choice of systems to be presented to members has been narrowed down to a handful.

Lebel said that “some things take years to change. You can’t revolutionize something from one day to the next.”

Canada also can’t emulate Europe in mass transportation practices because of geography and demographics, he added. The old continent has one of the world’s highest population densities while Canada’s “immense territory” has a fraction of Europe’s population.

But urbanization has reached such a point in Canada that mass transit has become a key national economic issue, getting people to their jobs and back home.

That’s why, Lebel said, his government has passed into law a $2 billion annual transfer from gas taxes to the provinces for transportation infrastructure projects.

As for seamless connectivity in and between transportation modes, the theme of this year’s forum, Lebel pointed to the agreement between Canada and the U.S. to end double customs clearing. A Canadian flying to New York to catch a connection to Europe or Latin America, for example, will soon no longer have to clear customs again in New York.

“I hope it will be this year.”