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Climate Action

Reducing emissions from aviation

Aviation is one of the fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). The EU is taking action to reduce aviation emissions in Europe and working with the international community to develop measures with global reach.

Revision of the EU ETS Directive concerning aviation

On 14 July 2021, the European Commission adopted a series of legislative proposals setting out how it intends to achieve climate neutrality in the EU by 2050, including the intermediate target of an at least 55% net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. The package proposes to revise several pieces of EU climate legislation, including the EU ETS, Effort Sharing Regulation, transport and land use legislation, setting out in real terms the ways in which the Commission intends to reach EU climate targets under the European Green Deal.


The Inception Impact Assessment (Roadmap) on the legislative initiative was open for feedback until 28 August 2020.

Public consultation

The open public consultation on the legislative initiative is open until 14 January 2021.

Aviation emissions

Policy actions and the efforts of industry have led to improvements in fuel efficiency over recent years. For instance, the amount of fuel burned per passenger dropped by 24% between 2005 and 2017. However, these environmental benefits have been outpaced by a sustained growth in air traffic, with passengers in 2017 flying on average 60% further than in 2005.

In the EU in 2017, direct emissions from aviation accounted for 3.8% of total CO2 emissions. The aviation sector creates 13.9% of the emissions from transport, making it the second biggest source of transport GHG emissions after road transport.

  • If global aviation were a country, it would rank in the top 10 emitters.
  • Someone flying from Lisbon to New York and back generates roughly the same level of emissions as the average person in the EU does by heating their home for a whole year.

Before the COVID-19 crisis, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) forecasted that by 2050 international aviation emissions could triple compared with 2015.

Aviation also has an impact on the climate through the release of nitrogen oxides, water vapour, and sulphate and soot particles at high altitudes, which could have a significant climate effect. A November 2020 study conducted by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) looks into the non-CO2 effects of aviation on climate change, and fulfils the requirement of the EU Emissions Trading System Directive (Art. 30.4). Overall, the significance of combined non-CO2 climate impacts from aviation activities, previously estimated to be at least as important as those of CO2 alone, is now fully confirmed by the report.

To achieve climate neutrality, the European Green Deal sets out the need to reduce transport emissions by 90% by 2050 (compared to 1990-levels). The aviation sector will have to contribute to the reduction.

Aviation in EU Emissions Trading System

CO2 emissions from aviation have been included in the EU emissions trading system (EU ETS) since 2012. Under the EU ETS, all airlines operating in Europe, European and non-European alike, are required to monitor, report and verify their emissions, and to surrender allowances against those emissions. They receive tradeable allowances covering a certain level of emissions from their flights per year.

The system has so far contributed to reducing the carbon footprint of the aviation sector by more than 17 million tonnes per year, with compliance covering over 99.5% of emissions.

In addition to market-based measures like the ETS, operational measures – such as modernising and improving air traffic management technologies, procedures and systems – also contribute to reducing aviation emissions.

The legislation, adopted in 2008, was designed to apply to emissions from flights from, to and within the European Economic Area (EEA) – the EU Member States, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. The European Court of Justice has confirmed that this approach is compatible with international law.

The EU, however, decided to limit the scope of the EU ETS to flights within the EEA until 2016 to support the development of a global measure by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

In light of the adoption of a Resolution by the 2016 ICAO Assembly on the global measure (see below), the EU has decided to maintain the geographic scope of the EU ETS limited to intra-EEA flights from 2017 onwards. The EU ETS for aviation will be subject to a new review in the light of the international developments related to the operationalisation of CORSIA. The next review should consider how to implement the global measure in Union law through a revision of the EU ETS legislation. In the absence of a new amendment, the EU ETS would revert back to its original full scope from 2024.

Aviation activities are also included in the Linking Agreement with Switzerland. The aviation activities in the ETS of Switzerland reflect the same principles as those of the EU ETS. Following the entry into force of the Linking Agreement, a Commission Delegated Decision adapted the text of the EU ETS Directive to reflect the scope of aviation activities covered by the Linking Agreement. A Commission Decision ensures the corresponding changes of the free allocation to aviation operators.

Results of public consultation

In 2016, the European Commission held a public consultation on market-based measures to reduce the climate change impact from international aviation. The consultation sought input on both global and EU policy options.

In total, 85 citizens and organisations responded.

View the contributions

Global scheme to offset emissions

In October 2016, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) agreed on a Resolution for a global market-based measure to address CO2 emissions from international aviation as of 2021. The agreed Resolution sets out the objective and key design elements of the global scheme, as well as a roadmap for the completion of the work on implementing modalities.

The Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation, or CORSIA, aims to stabilise CO2 emissions at 2020 levels by requiring airlines to offset the growth of their emissions after 2020.

Airlines will be required to

  • monitor emissions on all international routes;
  • offset emissions from routes included in the scheme by purchasing eligible emission units generated by projects that reduce emissions in other sectors (e.g. renewable energy).

During the period 2021-2035, and based on expected participation, the scheme is estimated to offset around 80% of the emissions above 2020 levels. This is because participation in the first phases is voluntary for states, and there are exemptions for those with low aviation activity. All EU countries will join the scheme from the start.

A regular review of the scheme is required under the terms of the agreement. This should allow for continuous improvement, including in how the scheme contributes to the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Work is ongoing at ICAO to develop the necessary implementation rules and tools to make the scheme operational. Effective and concrete implementation and operationalisation of CORSIA will ultimately depend on national measures to be developed and enforced at domestic level.


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Aircraft operators

The aircraft operators list

Obligations and procedures for new entrants

Allocation of emissions allowances

Special reserve

Small emitters

Penalties & enforcement of the EU ETS - Aviation legislation

Extension of the EU ETS to the EEA EFTA states (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway)

Monitoring and reporting


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