MEPs back cuts in air travel CO2 emissions
MEPs have voted in favour of air travel being included in the EU's carbon emission scheme trade by 2011 while also backing moderate cuts in the envisaged quotas of greenhouse gasses emitted by the aviation sector.
"We want a worldwide system as soon as possible. If other countries have better proposals, we are ready to change our system. But there must be an end to the status quo that nothing is done in the aviation sector," said Peter Liese, the German centre-right rapporteur on the issue.
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Under the proposals supported by the European Parliament on Tuesday (13 November), the emissions scheme should apply to all European airlines by 2011 while their pollution cap should be set at 90 percent of average emissions from the period 2004-2006.
In its original proposal, the commission argued that the existing CO2 levels (as produced in 2004-2006) should be stabilised and remain as the future benchmark for emissions allocated to the aviation business.
Apart from milder pollution caps, the commission also favoured a more gradual inclusion of air travel in the existing emissions trade system, by expanding it to inter-EU flights in 2011 and then flights departing or arriving from the EU in 2012.
EU environment commissioner Stavros Dimas argued on Monday (12 November) that air transport "must contribute in the fight against climate change" so as not to be in an unfairly advantaged position "to other sectors of the economy which are already making significant efforts to reduce their emissions."
"In the European Union CO2 emissions from airplanes are almost double the levels from 1990, and it is foreseen that by 2012 they will be 150% higher," he noted.
UK green deputy Caroline Lucas commented that the parliament's changes to the "timid and weak" commission proposal could ensure that "airlines cannot simply buy their way out of having to make emissions reductions."
However, she regretted that not all the ambitious targets previously approved by the parliament's environment committee made it into the final version during the plenary vote - such as the rule that airlines must buy 50 percent of permits at auction.
Instead, only 25 percent of permits will be auctioned rather than being handed out for free.
The MEPs' amendments were however strongly criticised by the aviation sector, with the Association of European Airlines (AEA) claiming that the proposed measures would cost over €160 billion.
"With Europe going it alone, this will result in a barely measurable reduction in CO2 emissions globally, but it will have a devastating effect, not only on European carriers' financial stability, but also on economic growth and tourism, especially in the new EU accession countries," said Fernando Conte, AEA's chairman and CEO of Iberia.
The commission, for its part, estimates that the cost of a ticket could rise by between €1.80 to €9 by 2020 if aviation joins the Emissions Trading Scheme, stressing that such a rise is small compared to changes due to inflation of oil prices.
The Emissions Trading Scheme was set up in 2005 and it allows firms from energy-intensive industries to buy and sell allowances worth one tonne of CO2 each, as allocated under national plans approved by the EU executive.
Under the plan adopted by the Strasbourg plenary, the allocations for air travel should in future not be distributed by the member states but by a "European harmonised allocation method."
Following the plenary vote, the bill will now be debated by member states. If they turn down the parliamentary amendments, the EU legislature will deal with the plan again in a second reading.