Greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft, increasingly implicated in climate change, will continue to grow even if the airlines join Europe's emissions trading scheme (ETS) which is designed to cut them, British Airways' chief economist admitted yesterday.
Although the scheme would help to cut back Europe's carbon dioxide emissions as a whole, the "burden of reduction" would fall on ground-based industries, while the aviation industry would buy emissions permits under the scheme to continue its expansion, said Andrew Sentance, who is also BA's head of environmental affairs.
Mr Sentance's admission will be seized on by environmental campaigners, who claim that although including aviation in the EU scheme is being trumpeted as a major step forward, it will do nothing to make actual cutbacks in levels of aircraft emissions - the fastest-growing sector of all greenhouse gases.
As a result of this, the environment committee of the European Parliament is proposing that instead of putting aviation into the general ETS as presently constituted, there should be a special scheme just for the aviation industry.
Under such a scheme, airlines would have to compete only with one another for pollution permits, and not with industry in general, and so be under much fiercer pressure to cut damaging exhaust emissions.
The proposal, strongly opposed by airlines including BA, will be voted on by the parliament in Strasbourg next week. Although it will not automatically become binding EU policy if adopted, it is likely to have a major influence on the final decision of the European Commission on aviation and the ETS, which is expected in the autumn.
Emissions from aviation are an increasingly hot topic in the drive to contain global warming, Accounting for a little less than six per cent of total emissions in the UK, the burgeoning growth of air passenger traffic means they will zoom up to become an increasing large proportion of the total in the coming decades.
Although new carbon limits are being set for EU member states for the next stage of the existing ETS beginning in 2008, the earliest that aviation could be included is 2012, given the time it would take to pass the necessary laws.
The UK airline industry is divided over whether carbon trading is a good idea. BA and easyJet strongly support emissions trading to head off the draconian alternative of a tax on aviation fuel to curb air travel. The UK airports operator BAA also backs the idea. But Ryanair is opposed and bmi, the second biggest airline at Heathrow, remains to be persuaded either way.
BA thinks any scheme would have to be restricted to point-to- point travel within Europe because of the difficulty of trying to impose carbon limits on overseas airlines, particularly US ones. But easyJet wants it to cover all airlines flying into and out of Europe, on the grounds that air travel within the EU accounts for only 25 per cent of total carbon …