Airlines Stung By European CO2 Limits

Thousands of airlines are set to face problems in flying into the European Union from 2012 unless they join the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, the European Commission has said, although a number of member states at the same time continue to bankroll the sector that is the fastest growing source of transport greenhouse gases to the tune of millions of euros.

Some 4,000 companies including the likes of KLM, Quantas and United, alongside business jet operators and even national air forces were listed in the bloc's official gazette on Saturday (22 August) as operators that must work to reduce their carbon emissions.

The bloc adopted legislation in January of this year that requires aviation emissions to reduce by three percent on 2005 levels by 2012 and five percent by 2013.

The companies, which also include European aerospace manufacturers such as France's arms producer Dassault and the multinational plane-maker Airbus, have until January of 2010 to submit to the commission their strategies for emissions reductions.

So long as the companies submit data on their fuel consumption for 2010 and 2011 by this period, then they will be awarded 85 percent of their emissions permits for free for the period through 2012.

But without permits, the airlines may have trouble landing at European airports, although sector experts do not believe this will happen any time soon.

The policy has faced heavy opposition from the International Air Transport Association and the UN's International Civil Aviation Organisation, which itself is tasked with regulating emissions from aircraft under the Kyoto protocol.

Financial support for AirbusMeanwhile, the four largest EU member states, and in particular the UK, are offering considerable public financial support to Airbus at a time when the latter government has refused to step in to ensure that the country's sole wind turbine factory does not close down.

On 14 August, British business secretary and former EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson announced his government would award Airbus €390 million (£340m) to protect thousands of jobs at the company.

This comes after London's decision earlier in the summer to back wind turbine manufacturer Vestas in its plans to shift production from the UK to China and the US, a move that threatens the development of wind power in Britain.

The French and German governments have also already committed public funds for the Airbus A350 and Spain is currently in talks with the firm about government support.

Global warmingMoreover, while environmental experts welcome aviation's inclusion in the ETS, they worry the move will do little to reduce carbon emissions from the sector that is the fastest growing source of transport greenhouse gases. Aviation is responsible for 4.9 percent of current global warming and emits more CO2 than France or Australia.

According to Bill Hemmings of the green pressure group Transport & Environment, there is not a lot of room for technical innovation within the aviation sector, which means that airlines are most likely to simply buy carbon offsets - certificates of carbon reductions performed in the developing world by, for example, planting trees.

The reliability of certifying carbon reductions in this way however is widely questioned by environmentalists and development NGOs, "and in any case, the reductions are just not being made by the sector itself," Mr Hemmings told this website.

"We need to see reductions in the real world," he added.

Furthermore, his group points out, the ETS only focuses on carbon emissions, but nitrous oxide (NOx) is also being pumped out in massive quantities by the aviation sector, having a massive climate impact.

Campaigners are more concerned that Europe fight to have aviation included in any international accord agreed to at this year's upcoming climate talks in Copenhagen, but in a way that includes non-carbon greenhouse gas emissions and that restricts the use of offsets.

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