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Various estimates for emissions from air travel account for between 2 percent and 3 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Such measurement probably do not fully account for the effect of releasing gases and particles at high altitude. In response, the European Union (E.U.) is making airlines join its five-year-old Emissions Trading System. Most commercial aircraft that land in E.U. countries or take off from one of its airports are expected to have to start trading under that system in 2012, paying for permits for some pollution. E.U. regulators want to use the system to nudge airlines to adopt greener practices and technologies more quickly than they might otherwise.

The regulators also have said that including the airlines in climate regulations was long overdue because international aviation had been left out of the Kyoto Protocol, while most other industrial sectors in developed countries had been included. Airlines are also not covered under the United States Clean Air Act. Various estimates report that complying with the system would cost airlines at least about $3 billion a year. Much of that cost would need to be passed through to consumers in the form of higher ticket prices.

This year the airlines are obliged to record all of their fuel use and have that information verified by independent auditors. Airlines that want a share of free pollution permits need to give detailed information by March 2011 about the amounts of goods and passengers they carried in 2010. By spring 2013, airlines need to hand over the first permits to compensate for flights made the previous year.

In December, the Air Transport Association of America, supported by American Airlines, Continental Airlines and Unite Airlines, filed suit in the High Court in London against the measures. The suit was filed in Britain because it was the first country to implement the system. Britain is also home to one of the busiest airports in Europe, London Heathrow, and the government is in charge of making sure many major U.S. carriers comply with the system.
The airlines complained that the measures had been taken without agreement with other countries in other parts of the world and were contrary to the principle that nations have sovereignty over their airspace. (The NYT, 7/4/2010)