GENEVA Senior officials from business and commercial aviation voiced cautious optimism that a long-sought worldwide framework to reduce aviation's carbon emissions could be in place by 2020.
And a key negotiator for the European Union's Executive Commission, focus of anger from many other countries over its emissions trading scheme (ETS), said she hoped a road map towards a pact would be agreed by this autumn.
The comments came on Tuesday at a discussion on prospects for a global deal eliminating the threat of regional or national rules, which aviation leaders say would be disastrous, at an annual European show for the international aviation business sector, EBACE.
"Eventually I think we'll get there," said Kurt Edwards of the International Business Aviation Council, IBAC, which groups plane and equipment makers and service providers for the multibillion dollar sector.
Guy Visele of the European Business Aviation Association, EBAA, agreed but argued that meanwhile his industry - which creates a tiny fraction of the emissions which contribute to global warming - should be treated less harshly by the EU.
Business aviation - in which a major role is played by big manufacturers like Boeing (BA.N), Europe's Airbus EAD.PA, Canada's Bombardier (BBDb.TO) and Brazil's Embraer (EMBR3.SA) - has been seen by many politicians as a playground for the super-rich.
But its advocates say the industry, in the doldrums since the financial crisis of 2008/9 after a decade-long boom, plays a major role in world trade and that over 80 percent of its operations involve moving businesspeople rather than elite individuals.
The EU, committed to combat the climate change blamed on carbon emissions, created an international storm when it said it would impose its rules from January this year on all flights to and from its territory.
China and India, among others, ordered their carriers not to comply and the United States said it would consider retaliatory action.
EU MEASURES SUSPENDED
The EU suspended implementation of the scheme, which would have compelled commercial and business aviation carriers from anywhere in the world to purchase offset credits for the carbon they emit over a set baseline for any flight arriving or departing European airspace.
At Tuesday's EBACE discussion, Elina Bardram of the European Commission's climate action division said Brussels remained committed to dialogue as the best way to achieve global agreement by 2020 through the United Nations' International Civil Aviation Organization.
It has already suspended enforcement of its own interim scheme pending the outcome of negotiations at ICAO's triennial assembly from September 24 to October 4, but has not yet made clear what it will do if those end in deadlock.
"The path remains challenging but we can remain confident that a road map will be agreed at ICAO if political rhetoric can be dropped," she said.
Officials from 17 countries are working with Montreal-based ICAO to shape an agreement acceptable to its 191 member countries to reduce aviation's carbon footprint through market measures.
Paul Steele, environmental specialist for the commercial airlines' International Air Transport Association, IATA, and head of the Geneva-based Air Transport Action Group, ATAG, said considerable progress had been made in the ICAO talks but quick agreement was unlikely.
"We're not going to get there this year. With 191 countries in ICAO, you're not going to get agreement easily," he told the EBACE session. But to reach the 2020 deadline, agreement was vital at ICAO's next assembly in 2016, he said.
(Reported by Robert Evans; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)