Greener skies in view as Europe plans airline ETS

The European Parliament has backed proposals for an emissions trading scheme (ETS) for air travel, opening up the way for EU legislation to curb the climate impact the fastest growing source of greenhouse gases.

Euro MPs also voted in favour of a tax on kerosene, and criticised the “very unfair competition between aviation and other transport sectors” resulting from the range of tax exemptions and subsidies enjoyed by the airline industry. These are worth £9bn a year just in Britain, according to UK Green MEP Sarah Lucas, the Parliament’s rapporteur on the dossier.

MEPs proposed a separate ETS for aviation, at least for the next trading period of 2008-12, as the sector’s exclusion from the Kyoto protocol leaves it with no binding targets. It could then be incorporated into the wider European scheme.

The international airline industry was exempted from Kyoto having promised to establish its own scheme, but this did not materialise. Advances in fuel efficiency cannot make up for an annual growth rate of 4.3%, Caroline Lucas said.

Although aviation only contributes about 3% of the EU’s total carbon emissions, it is the fastest growing source of CO2. Europe’s aircraft emissions increased by 85% between 1994 and 2004, and 7.4% in 2004 alone, according to latest data from the European Environment Agency (EEA).

According to the International Panel on Climate Change, the sector could be responsible for 15% of humanity’s impact on the climate by 2050.

The other greenhouse gases that aircraft emit are at least twice as damaging the CO2, Caroline Lucas said. Simply counting the tonnes of carbon produced is not representative of the climate impact also because greenhouse gases are more potent at aircraft cruise height than they are at ground level.

This also means that incorporating air travel into the European ETS, which only considers carbon emissions, would not effectively tackle the industry’s climate impact, Caroline Lucas said. She called for a separate scheme for aviation, which she said was also the only way to avoid airlines simply buying the carbon credits they need to continue their growth unchecked.

Jos Dings, director of the Transport and Environment NGO, welcomed the MEPs vote, saying that “it is high time Europe got its head out of the clouds, got the aviation sector in line with other polluters and started demanding emissions cuts.”

Airlines said the proposals were detached from “economic realities.” The International Airline Carrier Association director general Sylviane Lust said also that “the recommendation to set up a separate ETS scheme for aviation is totally unrealistic.”

Goska Romanowicz

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