|BRUSSELS - Aircraft will join the European Union's emissions trading system -- the EU's key instrument to fight global warming -- under a proposal to be agreed by the EU executive Commission next Tuesday.|
The European Commission has studied three ways to include the aviation sector in its efforts to cut greenhouse gases, either through a tax, a ticket charge, or inclusion in the emissions trading scheme.
Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas has repeatedly stated his preference for the last option, and his Commission colleagues are expected to endorse that position in a meeting on Tuesday, officials said.
"Aviation is a sector which is growing hugely and where greenhouse gas emissions are growing very fast," said a top Commission official, who confirmed that emissions trading would be recommended but declined to be named because the issue must still be voted on by commissioners.
"It's time that the transport sector, in particular the aviation sector, starts contributing to combating climate change. Emissions trading is a practical way of doing this."
The EU launched its emissions trading system in January. The scheme sets limits on the amount of carbon dioxide (C02) energy-intensive installations like power plants can emit and allows them to buy or sell allowances that give them the right to release the main gas blamed for global warming.
European airports and some major airlines -- including British Airways -- have come out in favour of an inclusion in the system, saying it would be more beneficial to the environment than a tax.
Airlines in the EU are already facing a possible tax on tickets to help raise funds to finance development aid for Africa. EU finance ministers have asked the Commission to examine how such a voluntary tax could be implemented.
The official said aviation could be included in the emissions trading system from 2008.
The recommendation on Tuesday will be followed by a formal proposal, which will then have to be approved by the European Parliament and member states. Taxes and charges would be more difficult to implement, he said.
A Commission document showed earlier this summer that passenger demand for air transport would grow at a "slightly slower rate" with aviation in the scheme, and airlines would pass on the cost to consumers, who would see ticket prices rise by up to 9 euros ($10.92) for a return flight.
Some environmentalists, while welcoming measures to crack down on plane pollution, say these will not be enough.
"What we are disappointed about in that approach is that in our view a package of policy measures is necessary to address the dramatic impacts of aviation," said Jos Dings, director of environmental group European Federation for Transport and Environment.
"Emissions trading, for a string of reasons, will not do the job entirely."
Dings said other aircraft emissions aside from C02 must also be addressed, and he said charges should be considered, since they are used in road transport.
"Aviation has always been a privileged sector and it's time to eliminate some of these privileges," he said.
Story by Jeff Mason
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE