The EU has set out less stringent climate and energy goals for 2030 reflecting the tougher economic climate.
A white paper released by the European Commission today said EU governments should face a single binding target to cut their carbon emissions by 40 per cent compared with 1990 levels – a doubling of an existing 2020 target to reduce emissions by a fifth, but below what some scientists and environmentalists say is needed to prevent the worst effects of climate change.
The Commission is also recommending that current national targets designed to raise the share of renewable energy to 20 per cent would not be renewed after 2020. Instead, a modest EU-wide goal of 27 per cent renewables will be set without hard and fast national targets allowing members to meet targets by building nuclear plants, which are carbon-free but not renewable.
"What we are presenting today is both ambitious and affordable," Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said.
Current national targets had not proved the most cost-effective option and ditching them would give governments more flexibility over how to meet the main emission-cutting goal, Barroso said.
The policy outline is not expected to be followed by formal legislative proposals until early next year, and would still require lengthy debate by EU governments and the European Parliament to become law.
Ahead of the announcement the charity Oxfam had called for binding EU-wide targets of at least 55 per cent greenhouse gas reductions, 45 per cent share for sustainable renewable energy and 40 per cent energy efficiency.
Lies Craeynest, Oxfam’s EU climate change expert, said: “The European Commission is gambling with our future. The proposed 40 per cent target would scupper any hopes of keeping temperatures below the 2°C danger level. With such lamentably low ambition, the Commission is dramatically increasing the odds of a future global food crisis.
“Shamefully, Commission President Barroso has put the interests of the fossil fuel lobby above all others. Progressive business leaders who understand the serious threat that climate change poses to people and the economy must now make sure European governments demand a much bolder 2030 EU climate package.”
The one firm legislative proposal included in the announcement was a scheme to prop up Europe's faltering carbon emissions trading market, with the aim of removing carbon permits from circulation to support prices.
Under the proposal, the Commission would set aside up to 12 per cent of carbon permits from 2021, as long as certain conditions are met. Among the conditions is that the number of allowances to be set aside must exceed 100 million.