EU Could Get Airline Commitments On Carbon

November 10, 2011

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Europe would likely have enough leverage to gain commitments from global airlines to reduce pollution if it wanted to end a dispute over a fiercely opposed plan to charge carriers for aircraft emissions.

Tony Tyler, director general of the International Air Transport Association, told reporters that absent any move to resolve tensions airlines and governments would continue to fight the European Union and work on a negotiated solution to what he called a "misguided move" to force compliance.

"It seems that Europe has the scope to get commitments for some sort of action as part of the price of withdrawing its international application of its own scheme," Tyler said. "Surely a deal could be done."

Beginning in January, airlines will have to join the European Union's Emissions Trading Scheme and buy permits to offset greenhouse emissions from aircraft operating within or to and from Europe.

Carriers say compliance would cut deeply into earnings at a time when the rocky global economy narrowed profit margins, and hurt plans to invest in more environmentally friendly technology.

EU officials have said there is flexibility in the law.

Airlines and two dozen other countries, including the United States and China, formally sought in a non-bonding resolution at the UN's International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) last week to exempt their carriers from the measure.

Airlines have also sued to stop the law and the US House of Representatives applied additional pressure by approving a proposal to exclude American carriers from the plan. Similar legislation is expected to be proposed in the Senate.

US congressional action and similar steps taken or contemplated by other nations have triggered concern the airline disagreement could spark trade disputes as other environmental measures have done.

Tyler again urged Europe to drop its plan and turn its attention to negotiate a deal, a process he cautioned would not be easy or swift.

"Everybody realises that something has to be done," Tyler said, noting that an emissions trading scheme acceptable to industry "has to be global and non-discriminatory" and recognise investments carriers and manufacturers are making in engine technology and aircraft design to reduce emissions.

"We're not opposed to emissions trading," said Tyler, whose trade group represents 230 airlines.