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Barack Obama must act fast to avoid a trade war over Europe’s efforts to curb airlines’ carbon pollution, a key member of the European parliament has warned.
Peter Liese, a Christian Democrat in Germany who has led Europe’s efforts to curb airline carbon emissions, urged Obama to live up to his sweeping promises to act on climate change, and help advance stalled negotiations for a global aviation deal.
Liese, speaking after meetings with administration officials in Washington this week, said he feared efforts to reach a global deal on aviation carbon had stalled.
He now saw a 50-50 chance the talks would fail to produce a deal by the early September meetings of the International Civil Aviation Organisation, triggering a transatlantic trade and diplomatic crisis.
“For me and I think for the European parliament this is a test case: how serious is Obama on climate change? Is it only a speech, or is it serious? ” Liese said.
He said he was disappointed with the state department’s position in the aviation talks, saying it lagged behind Obama’s sweeping climate change speech last month.
“The momentum and dynamic that we saw with Obama’s speech and Obama’s plan has not been included in the ICAO position,” Liese said.
“From where I see it now, there is more than a 50% chance that we will fall,” he said.
Aviation is one of the fastest growing sources of the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.
Failure to reach a deal before the ICAO meeting could trigger a crisis in the European parliament, and inflame diplomatic and trade tensions between Europe and America.
“It’s a legal mess, it’s a trade mess, and its a diplomatic mess,” said Annie Petsonk, who covers international climate law for the Environmental Defence Fund.
Under a deal reached last spring, the European parliament extended a deadline for airlines to comply with new regulations requiring carriers to pay for carbon emissions on flights to and from European airports.
Efforts then moved to the ICAO to develop “global market-based measures” for curbing carbon emissions.
The compromise averted the risk of a trade and diplomatic war over the aviation carbon tax.
US airlines, along with those carriers from India, China, Russia and Saudi Arabia, balked at paying the carbon tax – which added on average just $2 to the cost of a flight.
In a move that frustrated campaigners, Obama then signed a bill into law last year exempting US airlines from the tax.
Now Liese argued it was time for Obama to make good on his renewed climate change commitments, and push the state department to make greater efforts to reach a deal.
The White House endorsed curbs on emissions from the aviation industry last month, when Obama delivered his landmark climate change address.
John Kerry, the secretary of state, also endorsed a carbon charge for the airline industry in his years as a senator as co-author of a climate bill that failed in the Senate.
The state department did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
Obama’s bold climate speech last month has stoked expectation that he would now help efforts to advance a global deal on aviation emissions – and not stand in the way.
“The state department’s position on aviation pollution is completely out of sync with the direction the rest of the administration and the American people are going in,” said Glenn Hurowitz, executive director of the Catapult campaign group.
“The president has indicated a new commitment to tackling climate pollution but at the same time the administration is opposing other countries from taking modest and affordable action themselves.”