Brussels list reveals airlines will bankroll UK climate change effort

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More than a quarter of the world's airlines will effectively be bankrolling the UK's effort to tackle climate change according to a list published by Brussels of aircraft operators to be regulated once aviation is rolled into the world's largest carbon market.

The European Commission has now published a list of aircraft operators to be included in the European Union emissions trading scheme (ETS) from 2012 and which forms a crucial part of the implementation of the rules to include aircraft operators.

All commercial aviation activities arriving at and departing from EU airports will be included from that time in the EU scheme for greenhouse gas emission allowance trading within the EU.

Importantly, each aircraft operator will be supervised by a single EU member state, which will be responsible for ensuring compliance with the new rules. They will be responsible either for airlines to which they have issued an operating licence or to those whose 2006 emissions were mostly attributable to that EU nation.

While 25% of airlines on the combined list are from the USA - which has questioned the legality of the European action, saying it contravenes international aviation rules under the Chicago Convention - an examination of the preliminary list of administering states based on Eurocontrol data shows that the UK, France and Germany will administer half the operators flying into Europe.

A closer look reveals that 780 operators will be allocated to the UK. That number includes most of the large US carriers such as American Airlines, Continental Airlines and United Airlines, Middle East airlines such as Emirates and Etihad and Asian airlines such as Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines and Singapore Airlines, as well as Air New Zealand, Qantas and South African Airways.

Europe has only recommended that revenue raised from the auctioning process of the ETS "should" go towards funding clean aircraft research and development. Member states - as tax collectors - could therefore express their green fiscal munificence by funding anti-deforestation measures in the developing world and general climate change alleviation projects - ignoring both aviation research and development completely and a dedicated tax targeted at speeding up the retirement of old, less efficient aircraft.

The publication of the list will no doubt put pressure on aviation's standard setting body the International Civil Aviation Organisation, which represents 190 signatory states. ICAO has been criticised for not acting swiftly or decisively to harness the impact of aviation's climate change, since emissions were not included in the original Kyoto Protocol commitments and are not currently managed under any international climate change treaty.

ICAO's specially formed 15-member Group on International Aviation and Climate Change was tasked with formulating recommendations by mid-year on an agreed strategy to reduce aviation emissions that ICAO can put forward at the United Nations climate summit where world leaders will meet in December.

The EU and its member states says they remain in contact with third parties during the implementation of these rules and will encourage third countries to take equivalent measures. "If a third country adopts measures, which have at least the equivalent environmental effect as this directive, for reducing the climate impact of flights to the community, the Commission should consider the options available to provide for optimal interaction between the community scheme and that country's measures, after consulting that country," says Member of the European Parliament Peter Liese, who steered the new rules through the European Parliament.

The EC will update the list each year by 1 February - and invites feedback from member states and other relevant stakeholders by 31 March and says it will publish a revised list if necessary.