BRUSSELS — The transportation chief of the European Union said Monday that airlines based in the United States could receive an exemption, at least in part, from European carbon regulations if Washington moved to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at home.
“We are ready to negotiate and to talk about these issues and not only make declarations,” Siim Kallas, the European commissioner for transportation, said during a news conference. “Adequate measures from other countries can be taken into account.”
The European Union agreed two years ago to include in the regulations all airlines taking off from, and landing in, the European Union starting Jan. 1, 2012.
The law is the boldest move yet by the bloc to push the rest of the world to comply with its climate policies. It has led to widespread criticism from the airline industry, especially from carriers in the United States.
Under the law, airlines would be charged for only about 15 percent of the cost of permits needed to cover their emissions until the end of the decade. Still, compliance would cost the industry at least 2.4 billion euros, or about $3.3 billion, a year, according to the International Air Transport Association, a trade group
Mr. Kallas did not give any details about what the other nations could do to qualify for a partial exemption, but he suggested that there was “enough flexibility” in the legislation to reach an amicable agreement with countries like the United States.
Any exemption would probably apply only to travel to Europe from the United States and other parts of the world. Airlines would probably still need to hold enough European pollution permits to compensate for emissions from flights taking off from the Continent.
Environmental groups were already concerned that Mr. Kallas had offered too many concessions in the last two weeks during negotiations at a meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organization, a United Nations body, to gain greater acceptance for European emissions policies.
A final resolution by the aviation group over the weekend said all countries with less than a 1 percent share of air traffic could be made exempt from so-called action plans on emissions.
Bill Hemmings, a program manager for Transport and Environment, an independent group in Brussels that promotes environmentally sound travel, said that the European Union “already was paying a heavy price to weaken opposition to its plan to include international aviation in its trading system” by agreeing to those concessions.
Mr. Hemmings also warned that if the union excluded inbound flights by airlines from around the globe, including the United States, that would cut the emissions covered by the system by 40 percent, drastically eroding its effectiveness.
Whether American carriers would be able to avoid the part of the charge relating to flights taking off from the United States was unclear.
The United States is still considering a range of measures to cut greenhouse gas emissions, including a carbon tax and a “cap and trade” market similar to Europe’s Emission Trading System. None of those options is likely to be in place in the United States before 2012.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, so as not to prejudge what the United States might offer, European Union officials said American carriers might be able to qualify for an exemption on outgoing flights if the United States government agreed on one or more measures, like better air traffic management to cut carbon emissions in the United States and a passenger tax at United States airports representing a fee on such emissions.
A spokesman from the Federal Aviation Administration could not be reached Monday for comment.
The United States, Canada and Mexico initially urged the United Nations aviation body to adopt a resolution stating that countries that wanted to establish an emission trading system covering airlines from other countries do so only “on the basis of mutual agreement.”
The language in the final resolution was milder, calling for “consultations and negotiations with other states.” It also called on member countries to improve the fuel efficiency of airlines through the middle of the century.
By JAMES KANTER/NYT