Chris Huhne, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, yesterday urged other European Union member states to show international leadership in countering global warming by raising the EU's climate change target.
The Liberal Democrat used his first EU talks since taking office to push for a 30 per cent reduction in Europe's CO2 emissions by 2020.
The EU is committed to reducing carbon emissions by 20 per cent by 2020 compared with 1990 levels, and has pledged to increase that to 30 per cent – as long as the US and other large polluting countries do the same.
However, the EU Environment Commissioner, Connie Hedegaard, faced with disputes within the Commission over strategy, says the time is not yet right for Europe to move to the higher target.
Mr Huhne wants early action, and made it clear yesterday that Europe should raise its sights – and in the process help revitalise the global climate change negotiations, which stalled at Copenhagen last December.
Mr Huhne said the estimated cost of hitting the 20 per target had fallen from €70bn (£58.1bn) to €48bn, and that a 30 per cent reduction could be achieved for a "very little increase" on the original estimate to around €81bn.
He claimed that sticking to the 20 per cent target would mean less than a 50:50 chance of keeping global warming below the two-degree limit generally seen as the threshold of dangerous climate change; moving up to 30 per cent would raise this probability and boost an industry worth $3 trillion (£2.1 trn), he added.