EU sets pollution limits for airlines

All airlines flying in and out of European Union countries will face pollution limits from the start of 2012, under a deal approved by Euro-MPs.

The agreement brings the aviation industry – one of the fastest-growing emitters of greenhouse gases – into Europe's Emissions Trading Scheme for the first time. And it is being hailed as a major advance in helping meet EU international obligations on cutting carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

The European Commission said it was a significant step in the fight against climate change – but acknowledged that it would eventually mean higher air ticket prices for travellers.

"Fully passing on costs to customers would mean that by 2020 airline tickets for an [average] return journey could increase by €4.60 (£3.65) to €39.6 (£31.4) depending on the journey length," said the Commission's impact assessment report on the controversial plan.

Heavy industry is already involved in the Emissions Trading Scheme - buying and selling emissions "permits" within CO2 limits set for the sector by Brussels. Cleaner factories can sell their surplus permits to less efficient plants, encouraging a general move to lower emissions.

Bringing aviation into the system will help achieve an EU pledge to cut total carbon dioxide emissions by 30 per cent from 1990 levels by 2020.

The deal means that all flights departing from or arriving in any EU countries, or flying within the EU, will be subject to CO2 limits from 1 January, 2012.

Aircraft emissions will be capped at 97 per cent of their average 2004-2006 level, decreasing to 95 per cent from 2013, subject to review.

Airlines will receive 85 per cent of their emission allowances for free in 2012, but the percentage could be reduced from 2013, again, subject to review closer to the time. The remaining 15 per cent of allowances will be auctioned.

Some flights will be exempt from pollution limits - light aircraft (take-off weight under 5.7 tonnes); emergency service, Customs and military flights; UN-mandated humanitarian flights; research flights; and all flights run by small airline companies producing "low" emissions (less than 10,000 tonnes of CO2 a year).

But official royal and government flights will be part of the scheme: the agreement makes clear that pollution limits will apply equally to air travel "performed exclusively for the transport, on official mission, of a reigning monarch and immediate family, heads of state, heads of government and government ministers, of an EU member state."

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