BRUSSELS, March 14 - The European Union should deepen cuts to greenhouse gases beyond the current 20 percent target by the end of this decade, according to environment ministers from seven EU countries including Britain and Germany.
Such cuts would not only help protect the climate but would also shelter Europe from future spikes in the price of oil, said a joint statement from the ministers, among them those of Spain, Denmark, Portugal, Sweden and Greece.
“This is about creating a new economy in Europe,” Chris Huhne, Britain’s secretary of state for energy and climate, told Reuters. “We need to get the carbon price up and send clear investment signals to industry.”
The statement came at a meeting of the EU’s 27 environment ministers in Brussels on Monday and one week after EU climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard laid out a strategy showing a low cost route to 25 percent emissions cuts in 2020.
“The Commission’s roadmap demonstrates ... that we already have the tools and policies to cut emissions by 25 percent domestically,” the ministers’ statement said.
“The case to move to a 30 percent target by 2020 is now stronger as a result.”
Europe is deeply divided over the wisdom of deepening emissions cuts in the current economic crisis, with some big industries such as steelmakers fearing the added costs will push them out of business.
Other industries say continued reliance on costly imports of fossil fuel is a bigger threat to the economy.
“It will increase the continent’s resilience against oil price spikes and reduce its dependence on imported energy,” said the ministers’ statement. “And it will help Europe compete with emerging economies in the fast-growing markets for green goods and services.”
It was not immediately clear, however, whether the statement had full government backing in countries such as Germany, where not all government departments see eye-to-eye on the issue.
Hedegaard told reporters the first serious EU discussion of deeper cuts would be at an informal meeting of environment ministers in Budapest on March 26.
“They will come with their more profound views ... then we’ll take stock,” she said.
Huhne said the statement represented the view of the whole British government and that Britain would aim to get there using a range of technologies, most important of which is energy efficiency.
“I‘m completely technologically agnostic on this,” he said. “It’s not my business to play God by picking winners in one sector or another.”
Hedegaard’s strategy report last week said existing EU energy efficiency targets could take the bloc to a 25 percent emission cut for little cost and that this would be the most cost-efficient route toward a cut planned of at least 80 percent by 2050.
It also implied there might be a need to intervene in the EU’s carbon market, the Emissions Trading Scheme, to take up any slack in the price of carbon permits, which could be caused by energy-saving measures.
Details of another tool in the EU’s armory of climate measures emerged on Monday -- a carbon tax on fuel, which a leaked draft suggested would be 20 euros per metric ton of CO2.
Editing by Rex Merrifield and Jane Baird