The UK is pushing for EU restrictions in aviation emissions to include international flights entering European airspace.
America has criticised proposals to include international flights in the EU 'cap and trade' emissions scheme, arguing the EU does not have this authority.
Following the assembly of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the transport secretary Ruth Kelly expressed disappointment EU partners now appear reluctant to include non-EU flights in emissions targets.
Britain is now urging the international aviation industry to accept more effective restrictions on aviation emissions.
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Ms Kelly said: "We want to work with our international partners to achieve a global solution to this global problem.
"If international negotiations deliver an effective solution than we will have achieved our goal through co-operation. But I am also clear that the UK, and the environment, cannot wait for ever.
"That is why we are reserving the right - if an international solution is not found - to act in the wider global interest by extending the EU emissions trading scheme to all flights arriving and departing from the European Union."
The UK has rejected attempts by other delegates at the ICAO to move forward with an approach that would prevent the EU imposing its emissions trading scheme for non-EU flights.
Draft legislation was proposed in 2006 for an EU emissions trading scheme for all intra-EU flights by 2011.
Ms Kelly continued today: "We are committed to ensuring effective international action to deal with the environmental impact of international aviation.
"But the debate in ICAO has hardly progressed in the past three years. ICAO has not lived up to the leadership role given to it by the Kyoto Protocol. That is a very great failing that should concern us all and we may pursue these issues in other international forums."
America is refusing to back binding targets for aviation emissions. It says the EU is focusing on aviation when road transport is more polluting.
This week, environmental secretary Hilary Benn said rich countries must accept binding targets if the international community is to address climate change.