By Monitor

AS if there were not enough quarrels between Europe and the United States, another is looming on the horizon. At the annual summit meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) in Montreal next month, the United States will attempt to block a European proposal that airlines should pay a so-called “green tax” to compensate for the environmental damge their flights cause. For “airlines”, of course, read “passengers”; it is estimated that the tax could add 20 pounds to the cost of a ticket for a flight in Europe.

This seems likely to become a replay of the row over the UN Kyoto proposals to limit the gas emissions which lead to the greenhouse effect in the atmosphere which, in turn, leads to global warming. Aircraft make a substantial contribution to these gas emissions and the proposals put forward by the European Union are designed to tax airlines according to the kind of aircraft they fly and the frequency of their services. As it did in 2001 over Kyoto, Washington has said that more research is needed before any new measures are introduced and has obtained the support of Brazil, Japan and Saudi Arabia. Just as the United States is responsible for 25 per cent of the emissions which are believed to lead to global warming, its airlines account for about one-third of all flights in the world.

No one underestimates the huge cost to the United States of adopting the Kyoto accords or, for that matter, of agreeing to an emission tax on aircraft. However, the cost to the planet on which we live of failing to take timely measures to halt global warming before it changes our climate beyond recovery, is infinitely greater and should not be put off indefinitely.

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