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Coronavirus redraws battle lines on airline emissions

Crippled European airlines have demanded relief from environmental taxes -

pitting immediate survival against long-term emission goals.

The tax tussle poses an important question:

Should bailouts come before climate objectives?

Airlines have been forced to suspend flights,

lay off thousands of staff,

and seek government aid to avoid collapse.

The head of the International Air Transport Association said it wasn’t wise to increase taxation on a structurally and financially weak sector.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) THE INTERNATIONAL AIR TRANSPORT ASSOCIATION (IATA) DIRECTOR GENERAL AND CEO, ALEXANDRE DE JUNIAC, SAYING:

"We are facing an unprecedented crisis at a level and order of magnitude that is unknown (…) In two or three months, more than half of the airlines should be totally out of cash. It is basically a cash crisis - no revenues and cost sales are still running.”

The shutdown is likely to result in a full-year decline in emissions.

Experts say that could dilute public support for environmental change.

Andrew Murphy works for campaign group Transport and Environment.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) ANDREW MURPHY, TRANSPORT AND ENVIRONMENT, SAYING:

“We need big action by governments and industry to make sure this isn't just a temporary fall in emissions because we need more than a temporary fall in emissions. We need to start bringing emissions down permanently.”

Green advocates fear climate action may lose momentum -

as it did after the 2008 financial crisis.

They're calling for aid to come with green strings attached.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) ANDREW MURPHY, TRANSPORT AND ENVIRONMENT, SAYING:

“If airlines do get public money, we need to see a big change in how they approach climate change, because for decades now their emissions have grown every year (…) for example, airlines having to pay tax on the jet fuel. They're now currently totally exempt from jet fuel tax or airlines having to use alternative fuels, alternative to jet fuel. So, you know, we need some big commitments from the airlines if they're going get the public support.”