updated 3/18/2009 2:17:31 PM ET 2009-03-18T18:17:31

European electricity companies pledged Wednesday to go "carbon neutral" and drastically curb greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Eurelectric, a group of power companies from the EU's 27 countries, said members such as E.On AG, Electricite de France SA, RWE AG and Enel would reduce carbon dioxide emissions and offset what they can't avoid.

Carbon offsets usually invest in climate change projects in the developing world — such as planting trees or building solar panels — and allow companies in rich nations to cancel out their emissions of carbon dioxide, one of the greenhouse gases believed to cause global warming.

Eurelectric said it needed the European Union and governments to help out by supporting renewable energy, nuclear power and coal technologies such as carbon capture and storage that would strip carbon emissions from coal-burning power plants and bury the CO2 underground.

It said a crucial factor was simpler regulatory permission for building new plants.

Europe's biggest polluters are coal-burning power stations that will gradually be replaced over the next few decades. Eurelectric said the industry needs euro1.8 trillion in investment to replace aging plants, develop power grids, meet new demand and hit environmental targets.

Eurelectric member companies generate 70 percent of the European Union's power.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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