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With jet planes belching climate-heating gases over a distance that is 34 000 times that to the sun, the world airline industry has renewed its attack on the EU’s go-it-alone plan to curb aviation’s carbon gas emissions.
Tony Tyler, chief executive of the International Air Transport Association lobby group, hit out again yesterday at the EU “climate tax” penalties that came into effect earlier this year for all aircraft leaving and landing at European airports.
Speaking in Beijing, he said world airlines were being asked to negotiate “with a gun to their heads”.
A trade war against Europe could grow and lead to retaliatory attacks on European airlines, he warned.
Last month, in protest at the European emissions scheme, China threatened to cancel a multibillion-dollar deal by Chinese airlines to buy European-made Airbus aircraft.
Earlier this week, Russia piled on the pressure by reneging on its promise to grant European airlines free overflight rights over Siberia.
Tyler said yesterday that the Air Transport Association supported China’s position in opposing European climate gas surcharges until a new global agreement had been agreed to by all nations – but he warned against any nation targeting European airlines in retaliation for a scheme imposed by their governments.
“Environmental sustainability should unite the world with common purpose, not divide it with affronts to sovereignty that risk a trade war, a war that no one wants and from which no winner can emerge.
“Certainly no airline – European or otherwise – should be a target for retaliation because European governments are acting extra-territorially.”
Tyler held out the possibility that a new global agreement could begin to emerge next year to regulate and reduce the volume of greenhouse gases from the aviation industry, estimated about five years ago to make up about 2 percent of total greenhouse emissions.
The possibility of a new agreement is to be discussed at the next meeting of the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organisation, which has failed for several decades to produce any legally binding emissions reduction scheme for airlines.
But Tyler said such an agreement was impossible under prevailing conditions.
“Europe seems more committed to implementing its emission trading scheme unilaterally than to sincerely negotiating a multilateral agreement,” he said.
“Nobody can deny Europe the credit for moving sustainability up the global agenda. (But) the onus is now on Europe to seize the moment, take credible action to defuse the situation and get on with finding the global solution that everybody is hoping for.”
For its part, the Air Transport Association was promoting a non-binding scheme for all airlines to achieve by 2050 the halving of their net emission figures for 2005.
Yet curbing the rate of airline emissions is likely to pose enormous challenges for an industry that transports at least 2.8 billion passengers a year on 35 000 routes from almost 4 000 commercial airports.
Tyler calculated that commercial air passengers travelled a combined 5.1 trillion kilometres last year – equivalent to 34 000 times the distance to the sun.
The number of passengers was expected to continue soaring. By 2030 twice as many people as today would be travelling by air. Also, because cargo aircraft were able to reduce shipping times dramatically, air cargo volumes were expected to triple over the same period.