Open skies pact is not a climate change issue

b7474baw.jpgGreen groups lobbied against the open skies pact because more competition on the lucrative transatlantic routes will reduce fares and increase traffic and emissions. As the plans are currently set up, they are right. The EC estimates that over the first five years the deal will lead to 25m extra passengers (50% growth on the forecast baseline).

European transport ministers unanimously approved the first stage of the deal on Thursday. It will allow any European or American carrier to operate the routes. Greens have missed the point on this deal.

The question is not whether we should have open skies or not. Limited access means higher profits, which at the moment go to shareholders of the chosen carriers. If we want to control traffic, regulating open skies will mean that these proceeds can be released to the public purse instead. (And anyway the transport ministers had to agree to the pact – the bilateral agreements between the UK and the US over the routes were illegal under European competition law).

The real issue is how to limit rapid growth of emissions from aviation in a liberalised market. The EC believes that its approach – including the industry in the Emissions Trading Scheme – will be sufficient. Many of the questions hanging over that plan, such as when it will be implemented (probably not until 2011 at least), how it will relate to the rest of the market for carbon credits (it will probably not be fully integrated) and the exposure of American airlines (probably none) show that the EC is prioritising growth over sustainability in this sector.

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