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25th May 2019

Brussels sets emission targets for airlines

  • The bloc's emissions from aviation have almost doubled since 1990 (Photo: EUobserver)

The European Commission has said air fares are unlikely to rise substantially under new emissions targets set for the aviation industry from 2012 onwards.

Airlines flying in and out of Europe in 2012 will be allowed to produce roughly 213 million tonnes of CO2, falling to 208.5 million tonnes from 2013 onwards, the commission said on Monday (7 March).

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The figures represent a roughly three percent cut on average annual emissions produced during three reference years (2004-2006), with Brussels hoping the inclusion of aviation in the EU's emissions trading system (ETS) from next year will help to further curb greenhouse gases linked to global warming.

The bloc's emissions from aviation have almost doubled since 1990, with commission estimates suggesting a passenger flying from Brussels to New York and back generates approximately 800 kg of CO2.

Starting from next year, some 4,000 airlines arriving and departing from EU airports will need special pollution permits, or allowances, tradable under the ETS scheme.

EU legislation dictates that 82 percent of the emission allowances will be given to aircraft operators and 15 percent will be auctioned. The remaining three percent will be allocated to a special reserve for later distribution to fast growing airlines and new entrants into the market.

A number of US airlines are currently challenging the EU legislation in the European Court of Justice, but Brussels has defended the move.

"Emissions from aviation are growing faster than from any other sector, and all forecasts indicate they will continue to do so under business as usual conditions," Connie Hedegaard, the EU's climate commissioner, said in a statement on Monday. "Firm action is needed."

In addition, the EU says the new moves are unlikely to produce a significant increase in the cost of plane tickets, although some firms might choose to invest in more energy efficient fleets.

Assuming airlines pass on all the additional costs to customers, by 2020 the ticket price for a return flight within the EU could rise by between €1.8 and €9, the commission predicted.

Environment group Transport and Environment (T&E) criticised Monday's decision as overly lenient however, estimating that the cost to the aviation sector will be the equivalent of a one-cent per litre tax on aviation fuel, currently untaxed in the EU.

In contrast, the average level of road fuel tax in the region is around 48 cents per litre.

"Inclusion of the sector in the EU-ETS is no more than a minor first step. And it is no excuse for prolonging the massive subsidy of fuel tax and VAT exemptions," said campaigner Bill Hemmings.

Europe's ETS forms a central element of the bloc's efforts to cut carbon emissions, but the system suffered a major setback earlier this year when cyber-thieves successfully made off with roughly €30 million in emission allowances.

Since then, national emissions registries have gradually reopened for business, with Austria and Poland restarting allowance trading on Monday.

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