US officials have criticized the EU's new plan to set emission quotas for planes by 2011, saying that the move will undermine international efforts to limit the environmental damage caused by aviation.
Under the bloc's emissions trading scheme industries can buy and sell emissions quotas. If they exceed their limit, they have to buy credits from other companies.
The European Commission on Wednesday revealed its plan, which will make flights within the union subject to compulsory carbon-dioxide (CO2) emissions trading from 2011. International flights arriving at or departing from EU airports would have to sign up to the scheme in 2012.
The extra year given for international flights is seen as a compromise towards the United States and Asian countries which had reacted angrily to the new plans.
US officials said any "non-consensual" inclusion of non-EU airlines would be illegal, adding that it would undermine, rather than support efforts to limit CO2 emissions from planes.
Small, but significant polluters
CO2 emissions are seen as the main cause for global warming. Up to now, the air travel sector, one of Europe's main producers of carbon dioxide, has been excluded from the legislation.
Emissions from aviation currently account for about 3 percent of total EU greenhouse gas emissions but have increased by 87 per cent since 1990, the commission said. The commission said that including aviation in the carbon trading system would cut CO2 emissions by 2020 by some 46 percent.
The commission said that ticket prices for flights would rise slightly. Additional costs for a return flight within the EU are estimated at 9 euros ($11.8) and long-haul trips up to 40 euros. To avoid the possibility of national governments being too generous in issuing emission allowances, the commission said that it would control the allocation of permits to airlines.
IATA welcomes plan -- with caution
The International Air Transport Association (IATA), which groups more than 260 airlines, meanwhile cautiously welcomed the plan. IATA officials said they supported the step under certain conditions, but also expressed reservations about the inclusion of non-European carriers from 2012.
IATA Director General Giovanni Bisignani said the Commission had to deal with two other major issues -- the EU's fragmented air traffic control and fears that its emissions rules might be different from those set elsewhere in the world.
A single European sky could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 12 percent, he added.
"We have 34 air traffic control centers in Europe but only one in the US for a similar traffic and land size," he said. "This leads to inefficiencies, delays, and too much time in the air."
He also called on the EU to follow guidelines on emissions trading being drawn up by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) next year.
"We must have a global approach for a global problem," Bisignani said.
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