BRUSSELS/LONDON (Reuters) - European Union negotiators face a clash with member states over whether to make all airlines using EU airports pay for their emissions after a parliamentary body on Thursday backed compromise plans to charge carriers for part of their journeys.
Some of Europe’s most powerful countries and international airlines strongly oppose the proposals, which they say are likely to reignite tensions with trading partners such as China and the United States.
The European Parliament’s environment committee voted to regulate emissions in EU airspace for all flights via the bloc’s Emissions Trading System (ETS) and teed up a fast-track negotiation process with national governments.
The pressure is on to get agreement from all sides before the end of April, otherwise earlier legislation that provoked threats of a trade war from countries including India, China and Russia would automatically reapply.
That law would have charged all flights in and out of EU airports for emissions over their entire journeys.
As a compromise, the European Commission - the EU’s executive arm - proposed charging just for European airspace, cutting the amount of regulated emissions by around two-thirds.
Despite opposition from other parliamentary committees, the 68-strong cross-party environment committee backed a modified version of the Commission’s proposal.
Peter Liese, a German member of the European Parliament who is leading negotiations, said he was seeking the best compromise given the time pressure. “This is a very difficult situation,” he told reporters.
Concern about angering trading partners has prompted major EU powers, including Britain, France and Germany, to seek to maintain the current practice of regulating emissions from intra-EU flights only.
A letter this month to green lobby Transport & Environment from Robert Goodwill, a junior minister in Britain’s Department for Transport, says Europe “cannot afford to pursue an aviation ETS that is opposed by countries across the world”.
The European Union in 2012 started charging all airlines using the bloc’s airports for all of their emissions.
It suspended the law to give the U.N.’s global aviation body, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), more time to craft a global measure to regulate the sector’s rising output of heat-trapping gases.
Last October, the roughly 190 nations at ICAO agreed to design a global scheme by 2016 that would not take effect until 2020 and rejected letting Europe apply its own plan to foreign carriers in the meantime.
The major international airlines objected strongly to the original EU law charging them for emissions over the length of their flights and also to limiting the charge to EU airspace.
Low-cost airlines, whose flights are almost exclusively European, have taken a different view. They say the Commission should not have caved into pressure and suspended its original law.
At present, they say they suffer a competitive disadvantage because internal EU flights are still paying for emissions.
The Commission, meanwhile, is seeking to strengthen the EU Emissions Trading System and eventually extend its scope.
Thursday’s session of the environment committee voted in support of monitoring ships’ emissions of carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide. EU president Greece has said getting agreement on the shipping emission law is a priority for its six months at the helm of EU policymaking.
Additional reporting by James Francis in Brussels; Editing by Dale Hudson