EU environment ministers gave unanimous support to plans for cuts in greenhouse gases of as much as 20 percent by 2020 from 1990 levels.
The EU hopes to avoid extreme weather conditions caused by climate change
German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel told reporters on Tuesday that all 27 EU environment ministers backed in principle a proposed unilateral cut in EU emissions of 20 percent by 2020 from 1990 levels.
The agreement came during discussions among the ministers in Brussels ahead of a formal vote later in the day.
They also agreed with an even more ambitious target of a 30 percent EU cut in carbon dioxide emissions by 2020 provided other industrial nations joined in, said Gabriel.
German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel
"So as far as these two objectives are concerned, those are things we agree," Gabriel said, adding that the targets would be binding on
The proposal would set a target to slash carbon dioxide emissions by "at least" 20 percent by 2020 and possibly as much as 30 percent, the latter on condition that other developed countries are willing to do the same.
Plan is key to EU's fight against climate change
The commitment would be the main plank of the European Union's strategy for combating climate change after 2012, when existing
emissions targets under the Kyoto Protocol expire.
Under the Kyoto Protocol developed countries are currently supposed to reduce their emissions by five percent by 2012 from 1990 levels, while the EU has a higher target of eight percent.
The commission, the EU's executive arm, proposed in January that the bloc commit to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20
percent by 2020 mainly through energy efficiency measures. It is seeking the ministers' approval of the plan in order to get backing from EU leaders at a March 8-9 summit in Brussels.
Details of how EU nations -- especially EU newcomers from central and eastern Europe -- would share-out the emission reductions still
had to be worked out, Gabriel said.
Earlier, several EU states including Finland, Hungary and Poland had argued against binding targets on reducing CO2 emission levels
However, calls for firmer action had come, among others, from Slovenia, Spain and Britain which said all EU states must stand up
and commit to serious climate action or lose their "leadership role" on the issue.
Germany, which currently holds the European Union's six-month rotating presidency as well heads the G8, has made tackling climate change a key priority. The counry's car industry however is up in arms over various proposals to cut car emissions for fear that it would hurt business.
Green groups welcome agreement
Environmental groups, including the WWF, welcomed the EU agreement, saying they now wanted EU leaders who meet in Brussels next month to endorse the 30 per cent target.
Climate change is expected to cause extreme weather conditions in Europe
Stephan Singer, Head of WWF's European Climate and Energy Unit, said the EU must "immediately put in place concrete measures to achieve such targets."
He also urged the EU to forge a strategy to mobilise resources and engage other countries for the period after the 2012 expiry of the
current Kyoto protocol on climate change.
Climate change and the switch to a low-carbon economy are expected to be key issues to be discussed by EU leaders at their summit in Brussels on March 8-9.