DOHA A more than decade-long quest for a global plan to curb airline emissions is likely to pick up speed this week, with a meeting set for a new high-level team of officials, including two U.S. government advisers.
The meeting has been scheduled for December 12-13 in Montreal after a stand-off between the European Union and non-EU nations over a law to include all airlines that use EU airports in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme. The law has stirred threats of a trade war.
This week's talks should be followed by a second meeting towards the end of January and another in March or early April, according to a letter dated November 16 from Roberto Kobeh Gonzalez, president of the council of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), seen by Reuters.
He was writing to members of a high-level group, which includes Jos Delbeke, director general of the European Commission's climate department, and U.S. Climate Envoy Todd Stern.
"There's an unprecedented opportunity for the (U.S. President Barack) Obama administration to deliver a deal in ICAO," said Keya Chatterjee, senior director, international climate policy at WWF in the United States. "It's up to some of his senior climate officials to get to start making a difference."
Stern will be advised by Michael Froman, the chief White House economic affairs adviser who attended Harvard Law School with Obama and was involved a high-level energy and climate forum on issues linked to 2009 climate change talks in Copenhagen.
Also on the panel will be government and aviation officials from Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, France, India, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Uganda and the United Arab Emirates, according to an attachment sent with the letter.
The new forum in Montreal will consider the set-up of a global market-based mechanism to help curb airline emissions, as an alternative to the EU Emissions Trading Scheme law.
Issues it will explore include the use of any revenues generated. They could, for instance, be used to help nations deal with the impact of climate change.
The decision to set up the high-level panel was taken at a November meeting of the ICAO, a U.N. body.
EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard hailed progress at those talks and shortly afterwards announced a year-long freeze of the EU law, although she said it would be reimposed automatically if the ICAO could not find a solution.
The European Union decided on its law after a decade of ICAO talks had failed to produce an agreed plan for aviation.
Hedegaard said that halting implementation of the EU law would create a positive atmosphere for progress at the ICAO.
Campaigners and some politicians say there is no longer any excuse for the ICAO not to succeed and note that Obama said immediately after his re-election he had not done enough for the climate.
Aviation emissions are not covered by the U.N.'s Kyoto pact on climate change, which was extended for another eight years in difficult talks in Doha that finished at the weekend.
"I don't have anything particular to say on ICAO. It's an important process, and we need to keep moving it along. But that's really all," Stern told Reuters on the sidelines of the Doha talks.
(Additional reporting by Regan Doherty; Editing by Jane Baird)