Airlines, Environmentalists Clash on Emissions

by | Jun 1, 2010

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Tensions between environmentalists and airlines are coming to a head over increasing efforts to regulate and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from aircraft. Meanwhile, recent studies are predicting that the air travel sector will be a significant source of GHG emissions in the future.

A coalition of three U.S.-based environmental groups, the Environmental Defense Fund, Earthjustice, and the Center for Biological Diversity, and European organizations such as WWF-UK, Transport & Environment, and the Aviation Environment Federation in Europe, have intervened in a Judicial Review brought by United, Continental and American – and their trade association, the Air Transport Association of America (ATA). The English High Court ruled recently that the Review could proceed.

The review alleges that the extension of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) to cover emissions by their aircraft traveling to and from Europe infringes international law and the EU-US open skies agreement. The environmental groups assert that the ETS has been built on solid legal foundations.

Lufthansa, meanwhile, has said it wants to delay the adoption of a carbon-trading scheme geared toward the airline industry, according to an interview with its chief executive in Die Welt. Lufthansa is claiming that expenses incurred during the recent crisis caused by the eruption of an Iceland volcano require a delay in the trading scheme.

The baseline for the trading scheme would also be based on how much airlines flew during 2010, a number which will be significantly lower due to the number of days flights were grounded as a result of the eruption.

Meanwhile, a study by the American Chemical Society’s Environmental Science & Technology Review indicates that CO2 emissions from the airline industry could double or triple by 2050 if no action is taken. Currently, aviation only accounts for approximately 2 to 3 percent of global GHG emissions, according to the study.

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