Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Why Have Airline Emissions Not Received More Attention in the U.S.?

A blog post yesterday from the Huffington Post characterizes the international debate over aviation emissions, fairly I think, as being "under the radar." The subject certainly has not received anywhere close to the amount of attention in the United States that has been devoted to construction of the Keystone pipeline. This is somewhat understandable, as a pipeline offers not only a much more visceral symbol but also a more tangible objective for advocates on both sides of the issue to rally around. Additionally, evidence to date suggests that both the U.S. media and public are only willing to devote a limited amount of bandwidth to the subject of climate change, and that coverage is easily taken up with stories on Keystone and natural disasters. Still, the lack of discussion of the subject in the U.S. has occurred despite the contentious international disagreement over the European Union's emissions trading scheme and the potentially momentous unveiling of ICAO's global emissions reduction proposal next month. This can't entirely be explained by the absence of aviation emissions from the political agenda as both legislative chambers passed a bill barring U.S. carriers from complying with the EU emissions regulation, which the President signed into law.

With much of his legislative agenda stalled in a divided congress, international aviation is one area, like the Keystone pipeline, where President Obama can support measures to combat climate change primarily through executive action. It is true that the current U.S. Senate will not ratify a Kyoto-like agreement on aviation emissions, but the executive branch should be able to assert a large influence on international policy on aviation emissions through more subtle diplomatic channels such as U.S. representation within ICAO and bilateral negotiations with EU officials over the ETS issue. By the end of the year we'll hopefully know a lot more about the administration's actions on both fronts. I'm skeptical, however, that anyone will take notice given how muted the responses from both sides of the political aisle were to the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme Prohibition Act. Regardless of what U.S. policy should be with regard to carbon emissions from international aviation, the issue undoubtedly warrants greater public attention.


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