* Targets under discussion lower than previous EU pledges
* Sends signal ahead of UN climate talks
* Member states divided over different energy priorities
By Barbara Lewis
BRUSSELS, Jan 14 The European Commission is
considering setting a goal to cut EU carbon emissions by 35 or
40 percent by 2030, a target that would mark a watering down of
its earlier ambitions following strong industry pressure.
The decision is due to be unveiled on Jan. 22, when the
Commission, the EU's executive, will set out its climate and
energy policy for the next two decades, updating the 2020
targets that have been the benchmark since 2007.
Once the Commission has laid out its thinking, negotiations
will take place with EU member states and the European
Parliament, but it could be years before the targets are law.
Ahead of the Jan. 22 announcement, intense dicussion has
taken place among commissioners and other policymakers.
While some are insistent that the European Union should set
an ambitious goal of 40 percent or more, bolstering its position
as a global leader on climate policy, others insist more
realistic targets incorporating industry needs should be set.
Documents reviewed by Reuters show that 35 percent is the
dominant figure in working documents, with the 40 percent in
brackets alongside, meaning it remains a possibility.
"The fight will be to get the 40 percent," said one senior
official close to the discussions, suggesting that the current
thinking leans towards the lower target.
According to EU research, 40 percent is the minimum that
carbon in the atmosphere must be cut from 1990 levels to limit
global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
Unless carbon emissions are cut by that amount and the rise
in global temperatures contained, scientists say the planet will
suffer more extreme climate events such as floods and droughts.
At the same time, environmentalists say the 40 percent
figure is out of date since it assumes that emissions will peak
in 2015. That is now not expected to be the case, meaning a
larger-than-40-percent cut is required.
BRITAIN AT ODDS
Depending on what level of carbon cut is agreed, the
Commission will also indicate the proportion of EU energy that
should come from renewable sources.
If it decides on 35 percent, then the renewables target
would be 24.7 percent. A 40 percent carbon target would imply a
renewables goal of 27.7 percent. Both of those renewables
targets are below the aim of 30 percent muted last year.
Fossil-fuel energy companies and other industry groups have
lobbied hard for a single carbon-cutting goal that does not
involve binding targets for renewables and energy efficiency.
Germany, which is in the process of transforming its energy
mix from nuclear power to renewables such as wind and solar, is
adamant that a binding target must be set for each EU state.
But other nations, notably Britain, which is investing in
emissions-free nuclear energy, is opposed to another green
energy target. Major utility companies such as Germany's E.ON
and RWE agree with Britain, which has said
it wants one carbon-cutting goal of up to 50 percent.
Poland, which is heavily dependent on coal, is opposed to
any agreement on new targets until global agreement on a
successor to the Kyoto Protocol on tackling climate change has
been agreed. Those discussions will happen later next year.
The EU's 2020 targets - which were held up as the
gold-standard for the world - called for three goals: 20 percent
of energy from renewable sources, a 20 percent cut in emissions
from 1990 levels and to improve energy efficiency by 20 percent.
The European Union is expected to meet or exceed the green
energy and renewable goals, both of which are legally binding.
It is predicted to fall short of the efficiency target,
which is not binding, and the Commission says it is too soon to
debate a new energy savings goal.
(Editing by Luke Baker)