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European regulators, corporations and other entities in recent weeks advanced efforts to curb travel-related carbon emissions, but not without criticism from officials in the United States and airlines on both sides of the Atlantic. Meanwhile, in Norway, the government and the country's largest energy company separately addressed the environmental impact of business travel by vowing to identify and offset carbon emissions.
Recent developments point out that carbon emission initiatives are much easier to launch within an individual country than across regional and global markets. For example, the European Commission last month met stiff opposition from certain parties when it formally proposed to include civil aviation in the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme, a system designed to help countries and companies comply with greenhouse gas reduction targets.
As part of the proposed scheme, all intra-E.U. flights--including those operated by both E.U. and non-E.U. carriers--would be included starting in 2011, followed a year later by all international flights to and from E.U. airports. "Like the industrial companies already covered by the E.U. ETS, airlines will be able to sell surplus allowances if they reduce their emissions and will need to buy additional allowances if their emissions grow," according to an E.C. statement. "Any increase in ticket costs resulting from the scheme is expected to be limited, and significantly lower than rises due to oil price changes in recent years."
The Air Transport Association of America said it "is disappointed that E.C. remains intent on unilaterally covering the flights of non-European Union carriers," and that the proposal violates international laws and air service agreements. ATA said E.C. should await a "multilateral" solution now in development at the International Civil Aviation Organization. Europe's ETS plans also further complicate efforts to negotiate an Open Skies deal with the United States, which already had been set back by the Bush Administration's decision against altering rules that govern foreign ownership of U.S. carriers.
The controversy also rages within Europe. Ryanair, which cited a $10 billion investment in a more fuel-efficient fleet in claiming to be "Europe’s greenest airline," said ETS would create "yet another tax on ordinary passengers that will increase the cost of travel and do nothing whatsoever for the environment."
The Association of European Airlines supports the concept of ETS, but said it needs to be designed appropriately and implemented as part of a wider industry effort to become more efficient. "I see little point in allocating emissions permits to airlines, only for them to be used up in flying circuitous routings, or holding patterns waiting for a runway slot at a congested airport," said AEA secretary general Ulrich Schulte-Strathaus.
AEA favors ETS over U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown's decision to double the air passenger duty on all incoming and outgoing flights in Britain--to £10 (US$19) for each one-way economy-class ticket and £40 (US$77) for each one-way business class ticket, effective 1 Feb. "The Air Passenger Duty increase has, if the U.K. government is to be believed, an environmental objective, by modifying demand for air transport--a euphemism for pricing passengers out of the market," according to an AEA statement. "This is precisely what the airlines believe a well-designed ETS could avoid, while still delivering environmental benefits."
The ADP treats all carriers the same, regardless of fuel efficiency and other efforts to cut emissions, whereas ETS is designed to reward those that become more efficient and penalize those that don't. The higher ADP will immediately increase the business travel costs of corporations flying in and out of the United Kingdom.
ETS and the U.K. ADP are components of the wider environmental controversy engulfing the aviation sector. The U.K. newspaper The Guardianlast week quoted U.K. environment minister Ian Pearson as bashing Ryanair, British Airways, Lufthansa and U.S. carriers for either lackadaisical support for climate change initiatives or for outright rejection of them. He characterized Ryanair as "the irresponsible face of capitalism," said U.S. carriers have been "a disgrace," and suggested British Airways is "only just playing ball."
In response, Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary noted that the airline industry accounts for 1.6 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and said "airlines are neither the cause nor the solution to climate change … Isn’t it time that Minister Pearson and other equally foolish politicians actually tackled the real causes of climate change, which is road transport and power generation?"
Ryanair rival EasyJet defended Pearson for "refraining from lumping all airlines together." Like EasyJet, Pearson, a member of U.K. Parliament representing the Labour party, supports aviation's inclusion in ETS.
Meanwhile, EU yesterday encouraged the transportation industry to replace diesel and petrol with biofuels as part of a comprehensive package of energy and climate-change proposals.
Separately, the Norwegian government will purchase carbon dioxide emissions quotas "to offset the pollution caused by international air travel by government employees," according to Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg's office. Norway follows the United Kingdomin tracking and offsetting emissions from government travel.
Norwegian energy company Statoil--which last year began buying carbon dioxide quotas to counter emissions from business travel--and its travel agency Berg-Hansen last week began informing employees on travel reservations of the emissions from their individual journeys. "We live in a world where we are dependent on flying," said Berg-Hansen managing director Per Arne Villadsen. "We need to share an awareness about all forms of environmental emissions, and we who work in the travel industry must … accept a clear responsibility."
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