BRUSSELS The European Union is not considering changing its law obliging airlines flying to Europe to buy carbon emissions permits, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said on Wednesday.
"The inclusion of aviation in the ETS is not a proposal, it is now European law. It was approved unanimously by the member states of the European Union, and it was adopted ... with a very strong backing by the European Parliament. So we are not thinking at all about the possibility of changing our legislation," Barroso told a news conference.
From January 1 next year, the EU will require all airlines flying to Europe to be included in the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), a system that forces polluters to buy permits for each tonne of carbon dioxide they emit above a certain cap.
China is leading opposition to the plan, saying it will cost Chinese airlines 800 million yuan ($123 million) in the first year and more than triple that by 2020.
The Association of European Airlines (AEA) and aircraft maker Airbus wrote to EU climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard last month, saying they were worried the dispute would result in trade conflict and retaliatory measures.
A group of U.S. airlines is challenging their inclusion in the ETS in European courts.
The EU counters that it chose to include aviation in its carbon trading scheme only after airlines in the International Air Transport Association (IATA) had given their support to carbon markets as the most cost-effective tool for the job.
IATA, which represents about 240 airlines, called the European scheme "illegal" at its annual meeting on Sunday, but later conceded that it still supported emissions trading. Its main complaint is about the details.
Barroso reiterated the EU's willingness to discuss the measures. EU law allows the exemption of airlines from countries that are making equivalent efforts to curb emissions from aviation.
"The goal is to reduce emissions," he said. "All the world should unite in some kind of directive like this one."
(Reporting by Pete Harrison and Christopher Le Coq, editing by Rex Merrifield)