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Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 December 2006, 17:50 GMT
Airline charge 'big step forward'
David Miliband
Mr Miliband said aviation emissions were still a 'very serious problem'
Moves to set limits for airline carbon emissions are a "big step forward" in fighting pollution despite plans to expand airports, the government says.

Environment Secretary David Miliband said emissions from the UK's planned doubling in passengers to 465 million a year by 2020 could be offset elsewhere.

It was still a "very serious problem", although "the important thing is we get overall emissions down", he added.

The European Union is to set airlines limits on greenhouse gases from 2011.

Extra costs

The EU's environment commissioner is proposing including airlines in the Emissions Trading Scheme, which aims to tackle climate change.

Under it, companies have to pay for emitting more than a set amount of greenhouse gases.

We have to make a choice whether we fly more, or drive more or use high-pollution energy
David Miliband
Environment secretary

Up to now, the aviation sector has been exempt.

Last week, the government announced plans to expand Heathrow and Stansted airports to help cope with an expected rise in UK airline passengers from 228 million a year now to 465 million by 2020.

This was widely condemned by environmental groups. At present, aviation emissions account for 4 to 5% of UK carbon emissions.

Mr Miliband, asked how doubling UK flights fitted with a green agenda, told BBC Radio 4's Today: "We have to make a choice whether we fly more, or drive more or use high-pollution energy.

"We have all got to do more. It's about government action, it's about business action and it's about individual action as well."

Mr Miliband added that the government had "been campaigning for a long time" to reclassify airlines as a high-polluting industry which should be included in the Emissions Trading Scheme.

He said: "It's one of the fastest-growing sources of emissions and we should effectively classify aviation as a high-emitting industry along with electricity and other energy generation and this is an important way of doing it.

"This emissions trading plan is driven by the science and it means that we can put caps on the amount of emissions that come these high-emitting industries."

It was also possible to change the way planes take off and land, which currently created "excessive emissions", Mr Miliband said.

EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas has said he hopes for a 30% cut in EU carbon emissions by 2020.

Some consumer groups are worried that it will be travellers and not the airline companies who will end up paying for this.

But environmentalists think it will do little to slow global warming.

Richard Dyer, of Friends of the Earth, told the BBC: "This is a tiny step in the right direction. It's not big enough, not urgent enough and not soon enough."

Green Party European Parliament member Caroline Lucas said: "Without limits on the number of permits the airlines can buy up from other sectors in the emissions trading scheme, emissions from aviation will continue to grow at the expense of other industries.

"This is especially worrying because, as well as emitting CO2, airlines produce other greenhouse gases which mean their total contribution to climate change is two to four times higher than that of most other industries."

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16 Feb 05 |  Business
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EU plans airline CO2 reductions
27 Sep 05 |  Europe
EU concern over climate progress
18 Dec 06 |  Science/Nature

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