BRUSSELS Cuts in EU greenhouse gas emissions have almost reached the 20 percent target set for 2020, official figures showed on Wednesday, stoking a debate on how quickly the bloc should promise deeper cuts.
The European Environment Agency (EEA), a scientific body set up to inform EU policymakers, said emissions in 2012 were around 18 percent lower than in 1990.
The figures also showed that the 15 EU member states bound by the first Kyoto Protocol commitment period which ended in December 2012 achieved cuts of 12.2 percent compared with an 8 percent target.
An agreement is expected at a U.N. summit in Paris in 2015 on a successor to the first global pact on climate change.
In the interim, Poland hosts U.N. climate talks in Warsaw next month and the European Union will prepare its negotiating position at a meeting of environment ministers on Monday in Luxembourg.
Poland, one of the heaviest polluters in Europe and looking to use more lignite coal to secure its energy supplies, is expected to resist setting any new commitments before 2015.
It argues that Europe, as a relatively small emitter, will only make a difference in the context of a global deal and that new energy and environment goals could inflate costs when the economy is still weak.
Hans Bruyninckx, executive director of the EEA, said Europe could not afford to be complacent.
"Member states must ensure that they are not making choices today that become obstacles to a low carbon future," he said.
Jos Delbeke, director general of the Commission's climate action service, said the European Union had to balance environmental concerns with the immediate cost of new technology or energy saving through measures such as better building insulation.
"The real question is economic. We know what we have to do, but we have to mobilize the expertise. That's where we have to calibrate very cautiously," he said.
Although a conditional promise still stands to deepen EU emissions cuts to 30 percent by 2020 if the rest of the world also promises to curb emissions, Delbeke said it would be pragmatic to shift the focus to 2030 goals.
"In terms of political energy, it seems better to put the emphasis on 2030," he said.
The Commission is expected to publish proposals on 2030 energy and environment targets around the end of the year, which EU sources have said will include a 40 percent emissions-cutting goal and a 30 percent renewable energy target.
Wednesday's data showed that the EU is also on track to meet a separate 2020 target to increase the share of energy from renewable sources to 20 percent.
Green energy accounted for 13 percent of consumption by 2011. The EEA predicts the bloc should achieve its target by 2020.
(Editing by David Cowell)