The European Commission has proposed freezing the imposition of carbon emission charges on non-EU flights for a year, a move that could prevent an international airline dispute from turning into a global trade war.
The Commission said after the announcement that it quickly obtained support of key member states, including Germany and Britain, and was expecting quick approval of the measure by all 27 European Union nations.
The EU's European Trading System requires airlines that fly to and from Europe to buy special permits for all the polluting carbon they emit en route. The charges took effect January 1 but airlines were not going to be required to pay until next year.
EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said that to "create a positive atmosphere" for the next year around global negotiations to fight greenhouse gases, she wants to "stop the clock" on the charges the EU was imposing on the foreign flights.
International airline organizations cautiously welcomed the initiative, while Germany's Environment Minister Peter Altmaier called it a "signal of strength and reason."
China, the United States, Russia and India opposed the charges and the EU plans had come to cloud international trade relations.
Around 30 governments that oppose the charges issued a joint declaration in February that cited possible retaliatory steps such as imposing charges on European airlines.
The EU proposal came after a weekend meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organization, where progress in talks had been reported.
Hedegaard said, however, that the charges on airlines could be immediately re-imposed in case the negotiations stalled after a year.
"If this exercise does not deliver, and I hope it does, then needless to say we are back to where we are today," Hedegaard said.