The 190 member states of the ICAO assembly adopted a resolution late on Friday (8 October) on capping emissions from international aviation as of 2020. The sector would also seek to become 2% more fuel efficient every year up to 2050.
The goals are, however, "aspirational" rather than binding on its member states.
The European Commission saw the deal as an endorsement of an EU decision in 2008 to include aviation in its emissions trading scheme (EU ETS) from 2012. Some US airlines have mounted a legal challenge to the EU's decision to incorporate all flights coming in and flying out of the EU into the ETS.
"Critically, the deal is a good basis for proceeding swiftly with the inclusion of aviation in the EU's emissions trading scheme from 2012 as foreseen by the EU legislation in force," said EU Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard.
The deal includes guiding principles for implementing market-based measures such as emissions trading. The Commission said the EU ETS is consistent with all of them.
"Crucially, ICAO has refrained from language which would make the application of the EU's ETS to their airlines dependent on the mutual agreement of other states," the Commission said. The EU agreed to "engage constructively" with third countries when implementing its ETS, particularly on dealing with incoming flights from outside the bloc, it added.
The deal follows nearly a decade of disagreements about how to cut emissions from international aviation. Currently, the sector accounts for some 2-3% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and its contribution is rising.
ICAO member states will have to submit action plans outlining measures to reach the goals. But countries where air traffic emissions fall below 1% would be exempt from this obligation and market-based measures.
The agreement comes ahead of the high-level climate conference in Mexico between 29 November and 11 December, when the members of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will seek to move the stalled negotiations towards an agreement on a new climate treaty.
"We feel that the Assembly resolution and related decisions are good examples of the spirit of cooperation that can make a substantial contribution to the UNFCCC discussions," said Roberto Kobeh González, ICAO Council president.