EU airlines could face CO2 trading regime

26.09.05 @ 17:45

  1. By Honor Mahony
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BRUSSELS - The European Commission is set to propose on Tuesday (27 September) that airlines should be included in the EU's carbon dioxide, (CO2) reduction programme.

The move might see airlines obliged to eventually take part in the bloc's carbon dioxide emissions trading scheme, which started up at the beginning of this year.

Under the scheme, airlines would have to fall in line with quotas on carbon emissions that would be lower than their current discharges.

If a given airline brought its emissions below the quota level, it could then sell its credits to quota-busting polluters, who would be obliged to buy "emissions certificates" under the new proposals.

The emissions trading mechanism is designed to create an industry-wide net effect of quota compliance, but could see consumers paying up to €9 per airplane ticket more than today.

Brussels' aviation plan would bring the sector in line with around 10,000 CO2-emitting firms in other industry areas, which have already been trading credits since January.

The whole emissions market initiative comes in response to fears that the EU will not meet its commitments under the international Kyoto climate change treaty.

Airlines lukewarm

The airline industry has reacted cautiously so far, with Lufthansa recently calling for the scheme to be applied globally and not just in the EU.

The German carrier added in a position paper that "emission trading must not be allowed to distort competition or create additional burdens for Europe's airline industry".

The first criterion hits upon a contentious issue in the proposal - it is not clear whether transatlantic flights would be affected by the scheme.

There is also concern about the timing of the move.

According to a commission official, EU environment head Stavros Dimas would like to put forward a directive next year.

This would mean that the law could come into force by about 2009, far too early for companies to get ready for adoption, the industry says.

Environment groups have also reacted negatively.

Jos Dings from the European Federation for Transport and Environment said the initiative was only a "modest first step" and called for it to be turned into a directive with real bite by next year.

He says one of the main problems is that the proposal only includes CO2 emissions whereas the "climate impact of aviation is much greater than CO2 alone".

Putting economics before the environment

Environment groups are also concerned that the current commission is putting money before the environment.

"It is clear that under this commission, the priority has really shifted to the economic arm of the Lisbon Agenda", said Mr Jos, who added that environment and economic protection can go hand-in-hand.

His words come as the commission watered down its plans to improve air quality last week.

The EU is also in the process of reducing the scope of its chemicals legisation - known as REACH - for the testing of harmful chemicals in everyday goods.