AIR FARES may rise under government plans to tackle global warming, British Airways signalled today.
The admission is a blow to Tony Blair and Chancellor Gordon Brown, who have attacked David Cameron's move to impose higher aviation taxes. Labour has accused the Tory leader of seeking to "criminalise" frequent fliers.
However, British Airways chiefs told MPs that the Government's own moves to have the aviation industry covered by the EU emissions trading scheme could also mean more costly tickets.
Under the scheme, companies have an allocation of carbon dioxide that they can discharge and if they want to exceed that they have to buy quota credits from other firms.
"By 2011 we will probably have to purchase in order of 20 to 30 per cent of the allowances we need," Andy Kershaw, British Airways' manager of environmental affairs, told the all-party Commons environmental audit committee.
"That's already running into many millions of pounds."
Committee chairman Tory MP Tim Yeo asked whether joining the EU trading scheme would mean higher fares.
BA's company secretary Alan Buchanan said: "It will mean that the costs of emissions offset is included in the fares."
Afterwards he said it depended on the price set for buying carbon quotas whether the cost of tickets went up.
Airline chiefs have opposed the Tory plans to raise aviation taxes, with British Airways branding the move an "extremely blunt instrument".
The Tories seized on the comments by British Airways bosses.
Shadow chancellor George Osborne said: "This is classic hypocrisy from Gordon Brown who has doubled air taxes and then attacks Conservative proposals to improve genuine environmental taxes.
"The problem with Labour's approach is that they want to increase taxes without seeing the equivalent reduction in family taxes you will see under Conservative proposals. Labour's desperate attack is clearly falling apart."
The row over whether the cost of flying will have to rise to tackle global warming erupted again as the Government published its draft Climate Change Bill which will impose five-yearly caps on how much carbon dioxide Britain emits.
Environment Secretary David Miliband warned against "playing a game of roulette" by dithering over the sweeping action needed to protect the planet.
Mr Blair and the Chancellor sought to rally Britain to lead the battle against global warming by radically cutting emissions of harmful greenhouse gases.
Hailing the publication of the draft Bill as a "historic day", the Prime Minister said: "People who have been in Downing Street over the years have faced issues to do with the Cold War, the Depression and the rise of fascism.
"Climate change is of course a completely different type of challenge but I think it's the biggest long-term threat facing our world."
He trumpeted the proposed legislation, which will mean Britain is the first country to set legally binding reductions in CO2 emissions, as a "revolutionary step."
At the launch of the Bill in Downing Street, Mr Blair was urged by Aazim Ihsan, 13, from Royal Russell School, Croydon, to help him get his school to install solar panels. Mr Blair vowed to take up the case and signalled support for thousands more schools to install microgenerators including wind turbines.
He also stressed that the next "big step" in the fight against climate change would be an attempt to reach agreement with the G8 group of leading nations, as well as with China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa, at a summit in June.
The Chancellor called for millions of people to unite, as they did in the Make Poverty History campaign, to make the UK the leading force in tackling climate change.
Conservative leader David Cameron has demanded annual targets on cutting carbon dioxide emissions. Ministers have rejected this idea, arguing it would be too inflexible to cope with a particularly cold winter or other rise in energy demand, while Britain works towards the target of cutting CO2 emissions by 60 per cent by 2050 and between 26 and 32 per cent by 2020.
"By 2011 we will probably have to purchase in order of 20 to 30 per cent of the allowances we need," Andy Kershaw, British Airways' manager of environmental affairs.
Aviation is a major source of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, because planes burn huge amounts of fossil fuels at high altitudes.
In the Asia Pacific region, leading carriers appear to be staking out positions somewhere between those of the European Union and the United States.
On a New York-to-Denver flight, a commercial jet would generate 840 to 1,660 pounds of carbon dioxide per passenger. That's about what a typical driver generates with an SUV in a month.