EU Court Upholds Carbon Trade Plan for Aviation

By ARTHUR MAX Associated Press
AMSTERDAM December 21, 2011 (AP)

U.S. air carriers failed Wednesday to block an EU law charging airlines flying to Europe for their carbon pollution, yielding to a sweeping measure intended to curb climate-changing emissions from international aviation.

The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg dismissed arguments that imposing the European Union’s cap-and-trade program on flights to and from European airports infringes on national sovereignty or violates international aviation treaties.

The lawsuit was brought by U.S. and Canadian airlines acting through the industry trade organization Airlines for America, but the protest was supported by China, India and other countries with international carriers.

The U.S. airlines said the regulation was tantamount to “an exorbitant tax,” but the EU said the added costs would amount to a few dollars per ticket and would open the way for efficient airlines to make money rather than lose.

The carbon trading program, due to go into effect Jan. 1, is one of the widest-reaching measures adopted by any country or regional bloc to regulate emissions of greenhouse gases blamed for climate change. It aims to make airlines accountable for their carbon emissions, which contribute to global warming.

The EU said it had enacted the measure after the International Civil Aviation Organization, the U.N. regulatory agency for airlines, failed to take concrete steps to rein in carbon emissions, despite an ICAO resolution 14 years ago authorizing action.

Although only 3 percent of total human-caused carbon emissions come from aircraft, aviation is the fastest-growing source of carbon pollution.

The U.S. trade group said its members would comply with the EU directive “under protest,” while reviewing legal options.

“Today’s court decision further isolates the EU from the rest of the world and will keep in place a unilateral scheme that is counterproductive to concerted global action on aviation and climate change,” Airlines for America said in a statement from Washington. “Today’s decision does not mark the end of this case.”

Under the scheme, each airline will be allocated pollution permits slightly less than its average historical emissions record. If it exceeds its limit, it can buy permits from other airlines that have emitted less than allowed and have leftover permits to sell. Emissions are counted for the entire route of an aircraft that touches down in Europe.

The intention is to induce airlines to emit less carbon by upgrading their fleets or becoming more efficient.

Connie Hedegaard, the European commissioner for climate action, said she was “satisfied” with the ruling and ready to work with the airlines on implementing it.

The EU law would exempt airlines if they take comparable measures to control their greenhouse gas emissions.

All revenue derived by the EU from the program will go toward fighting climate change, the EU says.

An organization of budget airlines, the European Low Fares Airline Association, welcomed the decision, which it said would compel the big carriers to follow the same rules as small airlines on internal European flights. It said 80 percent of aviation emissions originate from long-distance routes.

Environmentalists also hailed the judgment.

The EU has calculated the cost to passengers will be minimal, ranging up to euro12 ($15.70) on a one-way trans-Atlantic flight. For many flights it will be a euro ($1.32) or two.


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