International Airlines Group chief executive Willie Walsh has demanded Brussels “amend” its airline emissions trading scheme while warning climate change is “the most serious issue” facing the industry.

Walsh told the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) summit in Tokyo: “Climate change is a challenge of a different order. It goes to the heart of the way we operate. There is no quick fix. It is the most serious long-term issue aviation faces.”

However, Walsh hit out at the European Union emissions trading scheme (ETS), which airlines joined in January, amid growing opposition to the scheme outside Europe. He said: “There is the possibility of damaging action by some states, of non-compliance by others, and some airlines are withholding airline orders. Thousands of jobs are at risk. The EU must consider practical amendments.

“The scheme could be applied solely within the EU and used to prove that emissions trading works.”

Walsh added: “Our priority is to deliver CO2 [carbon dioxide] reductions and we recognise the need for incentives to hit these goals. But we need a global solution. “Instead we have a perverse incentive that will increase emissions in some places.”

The EU has so far resisted appeals to suspend or amend the scheme, which requires airlines to buy credits for CO2 emissions above set limits.

Walsh said: “I’m not overly concerned about ETS as a tax. Other industries have to pay for emissions. I’m concerned about the EU imposing the scheme. It risks bringing emissions trading into disrepute.”

He said: “Part of the problem is the EU operates in silos. The commissioner for climate change is not concerned about the business impact of emissions trading.”

However, Walsh acknowledged: “The ETS has been a catalyst for addressing the need for a global approach [on emissions]. “Aviation was wrongly left out of the Kyoto agreement [on climate change] and it is time this was put right.”

He urged countries outside Europe to support the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) in agreeing a global emissions trading scheme next year.