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Battle brewing over aircraft emissions

The air travel industry is set to enter a full-scale fight over greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft, and the battleground will be the skies above the European Union. Travel Weekly (free registration required) notes that the European Commission has “acted to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft by including commercial aviation in an evolving EU carbon-trading plan” that would take effect as early as 2012.

Carbon trading, in very basic terms, means that a cap is placed on the amount of greenhouse gas participants (companies) can produce, and then those companies can buy or sell excess allowances from each other, so long the collective cap on emissions is maintained.

The battle that’s brewing, though, is over just who should be included in the plan, and whether it’s even legal under international law. Can the EU enforce the cap system on non-EU companies? And if not, why should European carriers be forced to do business on an uneven playing field?

Lost in the whole fight, of course, seems to be the notion that the industry has a responsibility to help preserve the environment. Aircraft emissions are up a staggering 87 percent since 1990, and aside from Richard Branson there are very few people in a position to make a difference that seem to care. That’s why I applaud the European Commission’s plan. Now they just need to find a way to make it work—even if it ultimately means passing the costs on to travelers.

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