EU climate chief: would see merit in airline CO2 talks at U.N

NEW YORK Wed Feb 15, 2012 6:32am EST

European Union Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard speaks during an interview with Reuters in New Delhi February 3, 2012. REUTERS/B Mathur

European Union Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard speaks during an interview with Reuters in New Delhi February 3, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/B Mathur

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The European Union's climate chief said on Tuesday she hopes countries opposed to its rules that charge airlines for carbon emissions take their complaints to the U.N. aviation body, where talks could help to defuse tensions over the strict measures.

A group of 26 countries, including the United States, China, India and Russia, have sharply criticized the EU program and will meet next week in Moscow to set a strategy to block the EU plan.

Last September, those countries threatened to file a formal complaint at the U.N.'s International Civil Aviation Organisation against the EU program that came into force on January 1, but have yet to take formal action to challenge the measures at that body.

"It's one thing that they do not like what Europe is doing. What can they agree to in ICAO? It will be very interesting for us to see that next step," EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said in an interview.

Earlier on Tuesday, the environment ministers of Brazil, South Africa, India and China issued a statement condemning the EU's airline emissions charges, and said the bloc was jeopardizing the global fight against climate change by acting on its own rather than building a multilateral agreement.

"That is of course not a valid argument," Hedegaard said. "Everybody knows that Europe has been fighting for a multilateral system. Everybody knows that other parties blocked that."

Europe has worked for a decade though ICAO to craft a solution to curb airline emissions, and launched its own Emissions Trading Scheme ETS.L after it failed to win a global agreement.

Under the ETS, airlines would be required to pay for 15 percent of the carbon they emit, a cost Hedegaard said would add about 1.5 euros to the cost of a trip from London to New York or about 2 euros to a trip from Beijing to Frankfurt.

Airlines that fly to Europe and do not comply with the ETS face a fine of 100 euros for each tonne of carbon dioxide emitted and for which they have not paid allowances.

In the case of persistent offenders, the EU can ban airlines from its airports - a measure that has drawn protest from airlines around the world.

China has banned its carriers from taking part and the United States has urged the EU to reconsider the program, warning it would take unspecified action if it were enforced.

Airplane builder Airbus also voiced its opposition to the program on Monday. Its CEO said the company's global deals could suffer and Europe's debt crisis could be made worse.

Hedegaard reiterated comments by European Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas that the EU would not drop the airline program in the face of growing criticism, including warnings that the issue could spark a global trade war.

"I see absolutely no need that people should escalate the discussion here," she said.

"Nobody has an interest in a trade war and everybody knows that," she added. "It's not that you can threaten us to change the law."

(Reporting By Matt Daily; Editing by Edmund Klamann)

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