By Julia Fioretti
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union lawmakers said they will keep the bloc's own emissions trading scheme for intra-Europe flights, criticizing a landmark United Nations deal agreed on Thursday to curb aviation pollution as unambitious.
In the first-ever global agreement to address emissions from a single industry, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) approved a carbon offsetting system that will require airlines to buy carbon credits from designated environmental projects around the world to offset growth in emissions.
But members of the European Parliament criticized its voluntary first phase and commitment to carbon neutral growth as opposed to emissions reduction.
"This is historic, but unambitious," said German MEP Peter Liese, from the center-right group - the largest - in the Brussels legislature.
The EU now has to decide whether to extend an exemption for international flights from its own emissions trading system beyond next year - an issue that almost sparked a trade war ahead of the 2013 ICAO assembly.
The EU had initially ordered foreign airlines to buy credits under its ETS scheme but was forced to backtrack when China and other countries said that violated their sovereignty.
It agreed not to penalize foreign carriers that did not buy credits until the end of 2016 to give ICAO time to craft a global deal.
Industry and several countries have argued in favor of the ICAO deal serving as the only global emissions scheme for international aviation. But as a concession to Europe during the negotiations the deal’s text was drafted in a way that would allow the EU to keep its existing scheme for internal flights, said two sources familiar with the matter.
Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy, a liberal MEP, said the ICAO deal should not hinder regions from taking additional measures.
The European Commission, the EU executive, said it would soon present a report on the future of the EU ETS in view of the ICAO deal.
The system will be voluntary from 2021 to 2026 and mandatory from 2027 for states with larger aviation industries. Over 80 percent of aviation emissions above 2020 levels will be offset by the scheme in the first phase, with 65 countries taking part.
"Of course this ICAO deal is not enough to really decarbonize aviation," said EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc at a news conference on Friday. But "without this deal, there is no other progress."
"We will now build on it," she added.
Alexandre de Juniac, director general of the International Air Transport Association, a trade group for carriers, on Thursday reaffirmed the industry’s preference for one unique system, the ICAO deal, to curb airline pollution.
But de Juniac said European states would have to decide how to integrate the global deal with their existing one in Europe.
(Additional reporting by Susanna Twidale in LONDON and Allison Lampert in MONTREAL)