Air New Zealand chief executive Rob Fyfe has lashed out at dithering over cutting emissions, described climate talks as a "bureaucratic circus" and blasted the imposition of some levies on airlines in Europe as money grabbing.

Speaking in Hong Kong last night, Fyfe said hand-wringing over emission reduction targets was interminable and a distraction from taking action and that was "simply a travesty".

He said he was happy to see carbon charges but they should be applied equitably around the world, across all industries and aimed at encouraging investment in new green technology rather than penalising all activity.

But he was not happy about the procrastination at conferences, turgid presentations and backroom deals that were determining unwieldy global agreements.

"To my mind, the UN climate change discussions amplify all that is wrong with global politics," Fyfe said.

"From our small country alone, hundreds of long-haul hour sectors will have been flown this calendar year by Government officials to take part in UN climate-related talks. Frankly, I would rather forgo the revenue we get from this bureaucratic circus," he said at a Greener Skies conference on aviation and the environment. "I look forward to the day when we all stop protecting our respective butts in the endless policy debates and start focusing, globally, on concerted action."

In New Zealand politicians had been arguing for three years about an emissions trading scheme and nobody had yet paid for any of the cost of their carbon emissions.

As in other countries businesses were urged to spend millions of dollars on consultants to minimise their liability and the proportion of the population paying to meet international obligations was getting smaller.

Time and money was being wasted on "unproductive hot air", Fyfe said.

"This is a travesty given this focus and resource could be channelled into capital investment, operational improvements, and research and development into clean technology."

He took a swipe at the United Nations agency, the International Civil Aviation Organisation, saying he was appalled at its "paralysis" on environmental issues.

"In the aviation industry we have no excuse for inaction - emission reductions make sense irrespective of the science of climate change and irrespective of the cost of carbon."

Airlines within New Zealand will pay for emissions indirectly through the increased price of aviation fuel but international flights will be hit by other countries' schemes.

The airline industry is seen as a relatively a high-profile and easy target for emissions schemes although globally it contributes just 2 per cent to 3 per cent of CO2.

The EU's own emissions scheme will impose costs on all airlines flying into and within the bloc which could rise to the equivalent of $80 a passenger for long-haul flights between New Zealand and Europe.

Fyfe said it was a "no-brainer" for Air New Zealand to cut emissions itself. With a fuel bill last year of $1.7 billion there was an enormous financial incentive to reduce that and therefore emissions.

He said he deplored the European Union's "money-grabbing" imposition of its emissions scheme on airlines, but he praised it for taking action.

However, Britain's air passenger duty was just a blunt money grab with no consideration given to how efficient flights were.