EU unlikely to extend emissions cuts: ministers

Demostrators holds a banner during a protest outside an EU Informal meeting of Ministers of Energy and Environment in the Andalusian capital of Seville January 15, 2010. The banner reads "Stop climate change". REUTERS/Marcelo del Pozo

SEVILLE (Reuters) - The European Union is unlikely to raise its commitment to cut carbon emissions by 30 percent from 20 percent until other countries show greater willingness to follow suit, ministers said on Saturday.

The EU has set a target of cutting carbon dioxide (CO2) by 20 percent from 1990 levels over the next decade. It promised ahead of climate talks in Copenhagen in December that it would deepen those cuts to 30 percent if other countries did likewise.

The United Nations has fixed a January 31 deadline for countries to commit to emissions cuts and the EU sees no sign that major economies will set comparable targets that soon.

“The final evaluation is that it probably cannot be done,” Spanish Secretary of State for Climate Change Teresa Ribera told journalists after a meeting of EU environment ministers in Seville, Spain. The decision had been widely expected.

The EU, which accounts for about 14 percent of the world’s CO2 emissions, is keen to lead climate talks despite its marginalization at last year’s meeting in Copenhagen.

Environmentalists had pushed it to adopt a more aggressive target in order to show the way.

It has not ruled out adopting a 30-percent cut at a later stage if it can gain concessions from other countries.

The nominee for European climate commissioner, Connie Hedegaard, told a European Parliament hearing on Friday that she hoped the EU’s conditions for moving to 30 percent would be met before a meeting set for Mexico later this year.

Prior to the Copenhagen talks, the United Nations had called for wealthy countries to cut emissions by 25-40 percent by 2020 in order to keep the average rise in global temperatures to within 2 degrees Celsius of pre-industrial levels.

Additional reporting by Pete Harrison in Brussels, editing by Anthony Barker