Amsterdam, March 7 – The European Union told airlines Monday to trim their carbon emissions by three percent on flights to the continent next year to fall within new pollution limits.
The limit is designed to encourage airlines to reduce greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming by switching to cleaner fuels or economizing on fuel consumption with lighter aircraft or more efficient flight patterns.
As of Jan. 1, some 4,000 airlines will fall under the EU’s cap and trade scheme on flights to and from European airports. Each carrier is allocated permits to emit a set amount of carbon dioxide. They can buy extra credits if they exceed that limit or sell credits if they emit less.
On Monday, the European Commission, the EU’s executive, set the 2012 cap at 212.9 million tons of CO2, about 3 percent less than the annual average the airlines emitted in 2004-2006. The cap will be reduced the following year by another 2 percent of that three-year average, where it will remain until 2020.
“Emissions from aviation are growing faster than from any other sector,” Connie Hedegaard, the European commissioner for climate action, said in a statement. “Firm action is needed.”
The EU says the impact of the measure on airline tickets “will probably be minor.” It calculated that a round trip ticket from Brussels to New York will cost an extra euro12 ($16.75) if the full price of carbon is passed on to the customer.
In fact, the airlines will receive more than 80 percent of allocations for free, and the extra cost to the company of a trans-Atlantic ticket would be about euro2. But officials in the European Commission say it’s likely the companies may take advantage of the scheme to raise prices by the full value of the allocation, reaping a “windfall” profit.
U.S. airlines have challenged the imposition of emissions cap on non-European companies, saying it breaches international law that assigns the regulation of air travel to treaties and agreements between countries. The suit filed by the Air Transport Association of America is now being considered by the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.
Air travel is responsible for about 3 percent of greenhouse gases, but their share of global emissions is rising rapidly. Although thousands of airlines will fall under the scheme, 50 major carriers are responsible for about 70 percent of the emissions.
Atmosfair, a German-based environment group, says one trans-Atlantic flight emits 1,600 kilograms of carbon per passenger, the same amount a person emits for heating his home or driving his car for an entire year.
Jos Cozijnsen, a Dutch environmental lawyer, said the cap set by the EU was “not very ambitious” and won’t affect the global economy. “It bends the trend a bit. A cleaner company has a better position than a less clean company,” he told The Associated Press.
Several airlines have been experimenting with biofuels to replace petroleum-based jet fuels. Fokko Kroesen, of KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, told a conference in Amsterdam last week that eventually biofuels could cut fuel emissions 80 percent, including the full chain of production. But most aviation experts believe biofuels need many more years of development.
Aviation experts say some airlines may adjust their international routes to avoid transit landings at European airports on flights, for example from North America to Asia or Africa.
The EU says emissions trading, which began in 2005 for power companies and heavy industries, is the cheapest way to control emissions from the most polluting sources. President Barack Obama proposed a similar scheme in the United States, but it was scrapped after failing to win congressional support. Some U.S. states have created carbon trading markets, and several countries from Mexico to Australia have drawn up plans to cap and trade emissions.
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