European Union environment ministers said Tuesday they would cut overall carbon dioxide emissions 20 percent from 1990 levels by the year 2020, adding that they were ready to go to 30 percent if other industrialized nations matched their efforts.
But the European Union's 27 nations still must agree what each should do to meet a 20 percent target for the entire bloc, with eastern European nations, Finland, Spain and Denmark calling on other countries within the bloc to share the burden.
The EU Executive Commission will now start drawing up more detailed plans on how that target will be meted out to allow some countries room to maneuver. This could see lower reductions for some nations, such as those of the former East bloc, to take into account their growing economies and efforts to clean up their heavily polluting industries. No penalties for failure to meet the target have been discussed.
German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who led the talks, said Berlin was prepared to go even further, noting that his parliament already had backed a 40 percent cut.
"There will be some countries like Germany that will see a steeper reduction in greenhouse gases," he said.
Gabriel said the European Union was facing a "historic decision" on climate change and all ministers were well aware of the importance of striking a deal, not least because their children were watching what they do.
The Kyoto protocol on climate change sets 1990 carbon dioxide limits as the starting point, and EU target is for a 20 percent reduction by 2020 from that baseline.
EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said EU nations had come a long way since March 2006, when leaders gave a vague direction to environment officials, telling them to look at a cut in global carbon dioxide emissions of between 15 and 30 percent.
"Not even the word 'target' was there," he said.
European countries will try to see if other nations will go further when EU members Britain, France, Germany and Italy meet with the other G-8 nations — the United States, Russia, Japan and Canada — in the German resort of Heiligendamm June 6-8. They will also seek carbon dioxide cuts from the emerging economies of Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa.
President Bush has kept the United States — by far the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide and other gases blamed by scientists for global warming — out of the Kyoto treaty to reduce greenhouse gases, saying it would harm the U.S. economy.
The Bush administration has said it is committed instead to advancing and investing in new technologies to combat global warming. It has set a goal of reducing "greenhouse gas intensity," which measures the ratio of greenhouse gas emissions to economic output, by 18 percent by 2012.
Many U.S. states and cities have set target reductions for themselves for emissions of greenhouse gases.