By Pete Harrison
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union has a right to impose legislation to cut emissions from aviation and showing weakness would encourage further challenges to EU policies, the EU's climate chief told airlines Monday.
Global airlines have attacked the European Union at their annual meeting over its plan to force them into the region's carbon market.
From January 1 next year, the EU will require all airlines flying to Europe to be included in the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), a system that forces polluters to buy permits for each tonne of carbon dioxide they emit above a certain cap.
China is spearheading the opposition, saying it will cost Chinese airlines 800 million yuan ($123 million) in the first year and more than triple that by 2020.
The Association of European Airlines (AEA) and aircraft maker Airbus wrote to EU climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard last month, saying they were worried the dispute would result in trade conflict and retaliatory measures.
Hedegaard replied to Airbus Chief Executive Tom Enders and AEA chairman Steve Ridgway Monday, saying that to back down now on agreed legislation would in itself send out a dangerous signal of weakness.
"If nations and regions do not defend their legitimate right to legislate and take appropriate non-discriminatory measures applicable to all economic operators, it would send an extremely unfortunate signal and create problems not just for the global climate, but also for European companies and businesses," Hedegaard wrote.
A Commission source clarified that both Hedegaard and her colleagues feared that backing down would open the door to a flood of new complaints over EU standards and policies.
The laws on aviation emissions have long been approved by all 27 EU governments, the European Parliament and the EU's executive Commission.
Nevertheless, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has stepped up pressure on the EU to delay or scrap the plan. "The last thing we want to see is a trade war," said IATA director general Giovanni Bisignani.
But Hedegaard's letter to Airbus and AEA gave a subtle reminder that the EU only chose to include aviation in its carbon trading scheme after IATA had given its support to carbon markets as the best tool for the job.
She noted that in a 2004 submission to the United Nations, IATA had argued in favor of the principle of emissions trading.
"Compliance costs under emissions trading would be about 66 percent to 75 percent lower than with taxes or charges to achieve the same target," reads the IATA submission, also seen by Reuters.
IATA was not immediately available to comment on why it had apparently changed its stance.
The full IATA submission can be seen at:
(Editing by Rex Merrifield)