The European Parliament approved a carbon-trading scheme Tuesday that will include emissions from airlines as of 2012.
The Parliament voted 640 to 30 in favor of the proposal, with 20 members abstaining. The draft law is expected to be formally approved by EU governments soon.
Under the plan, all airlines taking off and landing within the 27-nation European Union, including foreign carriers, will have to cut their emissions 3 percent in 2012 and 5 percent per year from 2013 on. The law allows them to meet these targets either by reducing their emissions or by buying carbon credits from other companies with surpluses.
Additionally, 15 percent of the credits would be auctioned off by the EU; the rest would be divided among airlines at no charge.
Aviation currently only accounts for only about 3 percent of the EU's total greenhouse gas emissions, but the sector has seen an 87 percent increase in emissions since 1990. If current trends continue, emissions are expected to double again by 2020.
Not surprisingly, airlines strongly oppose the law, saying that it would increase costs for the struggling industry and do little to help mitigate climate change. The Guardian (Britain) quotes the head of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), who says that EU Parliament members who voted for the proposal are simply playing politics:
"There is no assurance that any of the money will go to environmental programmes. It's time for Europe's politicians to be honest. This is a punitive tax put in place by politicians who want to paint themselves green," said Giovanni Bisignani, IATA chief executive.
He added that the scheme would hamper attempts to make the aviation industry more environmentally responsible by antagonising non-EU airlines, who are also supposed to pay for the carbon dioxide generated on flights to and from the EU.
The BBC reports that US officials and US-based airlines have also criticized the plan, arguing that the EU lacks the authority to force airlines to abide by their rules, even when they are flying in EU airspace. The EU must wait for a global agreement, these critics say.
The Guardian says that airlines are expected to pass the extra costs on to passengers. The British daily cites a European Commission report that estimates the cost at about $60 per passenger for a long-haul round-trip flight and $14 for a short-haul round trip flight.