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Aviation collects its ETS boarding pass

The EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) has received a boost from an apparent shift in attitude by the airline industry that could lead to the inclusion of aviation emissions in the ETS

The European Commission hopes a resolution passed in October by the 190 member states of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) on capping emissions from international aviation has opened the door for talks on the EU's plan to include aviation emissions in the ETS by 2012.

The issue has been the subject of a long-running dispute between the EU and airlines, which are unhappy that emissions generated from the whole route of a flight entering the EU would be counted against them, rather than just those produced in EU airspace. A number of US airlines have started legal challenges to the move.

The key to the resolution is what it omits: it does not say the application of the EU ETS to airlines should be dependent on the mutual agreement of non-EU states – that assertion in a previous resolution resulted in a stalemate in negotiations. As a response to this apparently more friendly posture, the Commission has said it will "engage constructively" in dialogue with third countries over how to deal with emissions from incoming flights.

The ICAO assembly also agreed that the aviation sector would seek to become 2% more fuel-efficient every year and cap emissions from 2020. The agreement covers 90% of worldwide air traffic, but the targets are not binding.

These are relatively small moves compared with those in some other sectors, but for the aviation industry they can be regarded as significant. "ICAO has done little to act on CO2 emissions to date, so any change in position is a significant step forward," says Andreas Arvanitakis, senior analyst at Point Carbon.

He says the difficulties in including a global industry such as aviation in a regional market such the EU ETS highlights the need for a globalised carbon market, if cap-and-trade is to be effective. But the incorporation of international aviation in the EU ETS would be seen as a big boost for the scheme, even though the sector accounts for only around 2% of global carbon emissions.

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