The European Union is willing to exclude intercontinental flights from the bloc's Emissions Trading System (ETS) until October 2013 as a "gesture of good faith" to help find a global solution.
Connie Hedegaard, EU commissioner for climate action, has recommended that the union's 27 member states "stop the clock" for flights to and from locations outside the EU until after the next general assembly of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) in October 2013.
Aviation was included in the EU ETS on 1 January 2012, obliging all carriers to document their CO2 emissions and purchase permits in the event that they exceed their allowances. The first payments had been due in April 2013, but this will now be deferred for intercontinental flights along with any obligations to monitor and report emissions.
Operators for flights within the EU will still be required to fulfil their obligations, as previously advised.
The decision to exclude international flights comes after ICAO's general assembly on 9 November. While the UN body has been opposed to Europe's regional initiative, "many countries" appeared "prepared to move" for a solution on a global level, says Hedegaard. She adds that a global "market-based mechanism" could be within reach.
Describing ICAO's stance as a "long-sought opportunity that we must use", Hedegaard says the European Commission is now focussed on creating "a positive atmosphere around the negotiations" and is prepared to defer obligations for intercontinental flights as a "gesture of good faith".
If no global solution can be found during the one-year timeframe, however, the EU ETS will "automatically" apply again for intercontinental flights.
Airbus welcomed the EU's proposal. Fabrice Brégier, the airframer's chief executive, says that the "positive cooperation" between ICAO and the European Commission is a "real chance to make progress on a worldwide agreement on aviation CO2 emissions".