The European Union emissions trading scheme looks to be the genuine article - the original cash cow, matching up as it does airlines with a single European country responsible for selling credits to that airline when it overshoots its carbon limit.

European powerhouse states such as France, Germany and the UK are set to rake in a fortune from the hundreds of airlines they oversee - riches they're not obliged to plough back in to greener aviation technologies, either - technologies that may give air travel a fighting chance in a carbon-constrained world.

It's clear that a high-stakes game is being played by the architects of aviation's entry into the world's largest carbon market.

Brussels wants global emissions trading and is forcing the issue with this unilateral action, hoping that non-EU countries follow suit with similar schemes.

The list does not say how much money countries stand to earn, or even what it will cost airlines, although the UK looks set to benefit most from the system because so many foreign, as well as domestic, carriers use its airports.

While early guesstimates of the cost of aviation emissions trading are hazy, in 2013, when the trading floor opens, every airline effectively starts off with a shortage and will be forced to seek additional carbon credits.

No-one can guess the impact trading will have on international aviation as prices will be set by the carbon market, which operates on simple demand and supply rules, exactly as for any other commodity.

Some say the initial 15% auctioned allowances will increase overall demand for emission credits by 25-40 million tonnes, driving up the price of carbon as a commodity and effectively pricing airlines out of the market. Do the sums, if you can.

One thing is certain. The recession-hit carbon market has stopped working because prices are not high enough to spur investment in clean-energy technologies that can't compete on cost with fossil fuels unless carbon prices were much higher.

The result is that, for the foreseeable future, these markets won't produce the sort of outcomes their architects set for them. It's clear that any airline flying in and out of Europe has become fair game, but to draw a cautionary analogy from the corporate world, the risks of a cash cow are complacency, with the boardroom ignoring at its peril the need for change as market forces steadily erode crucial value.


Source: Flight International