Airlines are facing renewed pressure to cut pollution after the European Parliament voted to impose carbon emissions caps and fuel taxes on carriers.

The decision on Tuesday by the Strasbourg assembly has no legal weight, but could influence expected EU rules to include airlines in the Union’s controversial emissions trading scheme.

Carbon output from carriers grew by an annual rate of 4.3 per cent in the EU between 1990 and 2003, according to the parliament. The aviation industry is the fast-growing source of the gases that many scientists believe trigger climate change.

The action could mean that companies such as British Airways, Lufthansa, Air France and Easyjet would be allocated an emissions ceiling and would have to buy permits to exceed that.

Heavy industry is already covered by the EU’s emissions trading programme, which began this year as part of efforts to cut greenhouse gases.

Caroline Lucas, the British Green member who authored the report adopted yesterday, said: “Without strict and binding legislation, airlines could scupper global efforts to reverse climate change. The aviation industry should be made to take responsibility for its damaging emissions.”

In addition, MEPs backed scrapping reductions on value-added and fuel taxes for airlines, which Ms Lucas said were not given to buses, trains and other forms of transportation.

The EU is reviewing its carbon trading scheme, which suffered from an over-allocation of permits in its first year, to consider including airlines. It will announce its plans by the year end.

The European Commission, which administers the scheme, favours this approach, as do carriers such as British Airways, arguing it is the most sensible way for them to cut carbon output.

The Union’s 25 states would have to agree to the changes and the earliest airlines could be included in the carbon trading scheme is 2009. Airlines could pass the cost on to consumers, but a Commission study put the maximum price increase at €9 for a flight to Australia.

The Association of European Airlines said: “Politicians have to be careful what they decide, because an accumulation of measures will have a small impact on the environment but a very big impact on the social and economic situation in Europe.”

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