EU body adopts strict rules for airline emissions

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STRASBOURG, France, Nov 13 (Reuters) Airlines flying in and out of the European Union should join the bloc's emissions trading system in 2011 and submit to strict caps on their output of greenhouse gases, the European Parliament voted today.

The EU assembly, in its first reading on a bill that has drawn ire from the United States and other nations, voted to set a tighter limit on aviation's carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions than first proposed by the European Commission.

It also set one date, 2011, for inclusion of internal EU and intercontinental flights and increased the number of carbon permits -- certificates that essentially assign rights to pollute -- that airlines would have to buy up front from EU governments instead of getting them for free.

The trading scheme is the 27-nation EU's key instrument to fight global warming. It sets limits on the amount of CO2 that industry may emit. Companies buy or sell permits based on whether they overshoot or undershoot their targets.

Airlines are not currently included and the EU wants to add them, to show world leadership on climate change and help meet an internal goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20 per cent by 2020 compared to 1990 levels.

''We are ten years late,'' in tackling emissions from international aviation, said Peter Liese, the German conservative deputy who steered the bill through the assembly.

''I don't think it's over ambitious. It's high time to do something.'' Airlines attacked the vote as damaging to economic growth while environmentalists said it did not go far enough to fight climate change.

TOUGH TALK, CRITICISM ALL AROUND The Association of European Airlines, which represents carriers such as British Airways and Lufthansa, said it was ''a massive blow to the viability and competitiveness of the European airline industry (and) a barely measurable step for the environment.'' But environmental group WWF said the parliament ''missed the opportunity to really curb the emissions of the fastest growing sector in Europe in terms of greenhouse gases.'' The plan must now go to EU governments for potential changes. It must be approved by parliament and EU ministers before it can become law.

The parliament tightened the Commission's proposals across the board, though EU governments are unlikely to support many of the new requirements.

Lawmakers voted to increase the amount of permits that airlines must buy upfront at auction to 25 per cent from 2011 and said the sector's cap should be set at 90 per cent of average emissions from the period 2004-2006, tighter than the 100 percent proposed by Brussels.

The parliament set limits on the amount of permits airlines could buy from other sectors in the trading scheme and under the Kyoto Protocol while adding a ''multiplier'' that would take into account the effects of gases other than CO2.

It also voted to include government flights in the scheme while excluding all military flights.

Lawmakers rejected the Commission's proposal that intra-EU flights join the scheme in 2011 and all intercontinental flights from 2012, saying that adopting one date would ensure no airlines were at a competitive disadvantage.

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas had said the Commission believed a two-step approach would help convince other nations that the EU scheme was workable.

REUTERS SBC BD2329

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