The deal still needs to be formally approved but, according to reports, it would require all flights, both within the EU as well as international ones arriving or leaving the bloc, to participate in the Union's carbon cap-and-trade scheme as of 2012.
The two-staged approach initially proposed by the Commission in a bid to appease third countries that are reluctant to be forced into such a scheme – the US in particular – has therefore been rejected.
Under the compromise, the number of pollution permits allocated to airlines would be capped at 97% of average greenhouse gases emitted in 2004-2006 – less ambitious than the 90% cap MEPs in the Environment Committee had demanded, but more so than the 100% member states had been pushing for.
This cap would then be lowered to 95% for the 2013-2020 period unless agreement on a different figure is reached during negotiations on the revised EU Emissions Trading Scheme.
85% of the permits would still be handed out to operators for free, but the remaining 15% would have to be auctioned. Airlines wanting to emit more CO2 than the number of allowances they hold will have to buy extra permits from other companies, encouraging them to invest in greener technologies.
Revenues from auctioning would not be earmarked for research on improving efficiency in the aviation sector or for investment into 'green' modes of transport, as demanded by MEPs, due to national governments' strong resistance to such plans. But the compromise would ask member states to report on how they spend the money.
The deal, which sources say is likely to be approved after difficult political negotiations, was immediately slammed by both airlines and green groups.
"Fifteen percent auctioning in 2012 is unaffordable and unacceptable for our airlines given today's high fuel prices and weakening demand," stated International Air Carrier Association (IACA) Director General Sylviane Lust, whose organisation represents airlines serving the holiday industry.
Green NGO Transport & Environment however said the deal marked an "historic missed opportunity" that would fail to deliver real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. It laid the blame firmly with national governments, which, according to T&E's João Vieira, "once again took the side of their flag-carrying airlines".