RPT-UK, France, Germany attack EU aircraft carbon plan

Fri Dec 6, 2013 4:50am EST

* EU officials to debate the issue on Friday

* Denmark concerned about environment, legal tangles

* Britain says EU Commission misread international mood

By Barbara Lewis

BRUSSELS, Dec 5 (Reuters) - Leading European Union states Britain, France and Germany propose scrapping a plan to make all aircraft pay a carbon charge for using EU airspace, documents seen by Reuters show.

The combined weight of the three powers means there is a strong chance they will get their way, pleasing trading partners such as China.

In a joint document, Britain, France and Germany say they are concerned about "the political acceptability and practical implementation of an airspace-Emissions Trading Scheme".

EU diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said many of the 28 member states agreed the European Commission's proposal on charging flights using EU airports for their emissions in EU airspace was impractical, but not all.

Denmark, for instance, has drawn up its own position paper, saying the aviation sector must take responsibility for its share of greenhouse gas emissions.

EU officials will hold a meeting on the issue on Friday.

An EU law on charging aviation for emissions has caused a heated debate and threats of an international trade war.

Eventually the Commission agreed to suspend it for intercontinental flights, but on condition a global alternative was drawn up. The law has remained for intra-EU flights.

The U.N.'s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in October agreed it would deliver a global plan to curb airline emissions by 2016 for implementation in 2020.

The Commission's response was to propose just charging aircraft for emissions in EU airspace, rather than for the entire flight.

But Britain, France and Germany's proposal calls instead for no charges before 2016 when the ICAO will hold another general assembly.

Environmentalists and some members of the European Parliament have condemned the ICAO deal as far too weak and accuse the big powers of being beholden to China.

They note that Britain, France and Germany all have an interest in Airbus, which has played a major lobbying role.

China, which objected to the extraterritorial nature of the EU law, froze Airbus jet orders in protest and some of those purchases are still on ice.

"This is an extraordinary move by the big three repudiating a Commission proposal and pre-empting parliamentary debate even while the ink is barely dry," Aoife O'Leary, a policy officer at T&E campaign group, said.

"Regulating aviation emissions in Europe's own airspace is an environmentally effective fix to the aviation ETS after the ICAO resolution."

'GLOBAL REALITIES'

Britain says it is just being realistic.

Niall Mackenzie, a senior official at Britain's Department of Energy and Climate Change, said in London on Thursday the Commission had misread the international mood and was not reflecting "global realities".

The Danish paper, seen by Reuters, warns of possible legal complications of scrapping the Commission plan.

Possible legal issues, to which the Commission has also pointed, include a lawsuit from low-cost airlines, which say they are at a disadvantage.

These airlines operate almost exclusively within the EU and have never been exempt from the carbon charge.

The Commission is also concerned about opposition from the parliament, whose consent is needed to legalise any amendment.

Without its approval, the original law, covering the length of intercontinental flights into EU airports, would reapply, raising the possibility of a new outbreak of trade threats.

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