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Does Punctuated Unilateralism Pay? Explaining the EU's Aviation Emission Trading Policy in the Face of International Opposition

Brendan Flynn

In October 2013 the ICAO agreed to introduce a global market based mechanism to address the climate change emissions of international civil aviation. This deal marks an apparent green victory for the EU, given that since 2010 there has been intense controversy, litigation and conflict over the EU's mandatory Emission Trading permit requirements for all flights, including those coming from, or going to, destinations outside EU airspace. Opposition has been led by Chinese, Indian and America airlines and governments, amongst others. Nonetheless, the EU has attempted since 2010 to unilaterally force emissions trading, following its own design. Has that unilateralism now paid off and should we celebrate the EU as a soft-power climate change champion? This paper argues for a more cautious and critical view. Firstly, the EU commission has in reality backtracked by agreeing to postpone implementation of the requirement for carbon permits for extra-territorial flights. This will continue until the new 2016 deadline. Secondly, the victory of achieving some sort of watered down globalised emissions trading regime for aviation may be Pyrrhic, given growing doubts about the effectiveness of carbon trading instruments, their amenability to market failure, manipulation and fraud. Thirdly, it is argued that rather the reveal the EU's green credentials, the story of the EU ETS for aviation is a rather classic example of bureaucratic policy entrepreneurship, chiefly located within the Commission.

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