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Airlines get an easy ride in EU climate deal

9th July, 2008

Press release

Aviation emissions are set to soar, but a new EU agreement supposed to tackle them will have little impact on the sector’s growing carbon footprint, say campaigners. A deal approved today by the European Parliament will, from 2012, see the aviation sector becoming part of the European emissions trading scheme (EU ETS). The ‘cap and trade’ scheme was first launched in 2005 as a way of restricting emissions of carbon dioxide – the main greenhouse gas responsible for climate change – from energy production and manufacturing industries.

But aviation emissions are growing rapidly in Europe and threaten to undermine progress in cutting carbon from other industries. In the UK, emissions from air travel have more than doubled since 1990 and the growth is set to continue, according to government figures (see note 1).

Under the new scheme, every tonne of CO2 produced by aircraft going into or out of Europe will need to be matched by a permit to pollute. Airlines exceeding their allocation will need to buy a proportion of their permits from sectors that have reduced their emissions or from accredited carbon offset projects in countries outside Europe, such as schemes to install cleaner technology in China.

Most of the allowances, however, will be given to airlines for free (see note 2) – a decision that has been criticised by environmental campaigners, who say that giving free permits to the power sector when the scheme started allowed them to make windfall profits.

Tim Johnson of the campaign group the Aviation Environment Federation commented: “We welcome the inclusion of aviation in the emissions trading scheme as a first step towards the sector paying its environmental costs, and we acknowledge the important role of the UK government in pushing this forward. But the agreement as is stands will actually have very little impact on the growth of aviation emissions. We keep hearing that the ETS will cap emissions from aviation, but in fact, if airlines exceed their limit they can simply buy credits from other sectors. Airlines pay no tax on fuel for international travel, yet the amount they consume grows every year. We will continue to press for other measures to be implemented alongside emissions trading to help tackle the full range of the sector’s environmental impacts.”

MEPs had been hoping for a tougher scheme with fewer free allowances, a tighter cap and measures to take account of the extra global warming impact of emissions at altitude, but they failed to win the support of environment ministers from European member states.

The UK is committed to cutting its carbon emissions by 60% of 1990 levels by 2050, with many scientists arguing that a cut of at least 80% is necessary. Emissions from international aviation, though, are often left out of government figures. While there have been some reductions in emissions from energy production, emissions from the transport sector continue to rise.

Notes to editors:

1. The Department for Transport’s most recent projections for aviation emissions were published in November 2007 in the document UK Air Passenger Demand and Carbon Dioxide Forecasts. See

2. Aviation will be included in the emissions trading scheme from 2012; the initial cap for aviation emissions will be equivalent to 97% of the sector’s average emissions from 2004-2006 (reducing to 95% from 2013), with 85% of these allowances allocated for free. Airlines emitting beyond the cap will have to buy allowances from other sectors or from accredited carbon offset projects.

3. The Aviation Environment Federation is the principal UK non-profit making environmental association concerned with the environmental effects of aviation. It has over 120 affiliated members comprising community and environmental groups, local authorities, parish councils, businesses and consultancies and individuals.

4. For more information, please see our website – – or contact Tim Johnson:, +44 (0)7710 381742