Study shows cost of responses to global warming is lower today than in 2008, when the EU adopted its climate change goals.
Ahead of next week's UN climate talks, the EU has issued a study on the feasibility of toughening its emission reduction targets.
The EU has already committed to a cutback in greenhouse gases of at least 20% on 1990 levels by 2020. At the UN climate conference in Copenhagen the bloc pledged to raise that target to 30% if other large polluting countries do the same. With no agreement so far, environment ministers have asked the commission to study the feasibility of the EU going it alone. The results were presented by Connie Hedegaard, commissioner for climate action.
The study estimates the 30% target would cost EU countries collectively €81bn a year - or 0.54% of GDP. While this is €33bn a year more than the 20% target would cost today, it is just €11bn more than the pricetag in 2008.
The lower costs reflect the decline in demand for energy during the recession and the rise in oil prices, which have driven down the price of polluting in Europe. The EU requires heavy industries to purchase permits for emitting gases, which can be traded on several exchanges in Europe. Based on carbon prices, the cost of meeting the binding 20% target has dropped 30% since 2008, from €70bn to €48bn per year.
The study says moving to the higher target would stimulate the economy and reduce the EU's reliance on foreign oil and gas. It would also make it easier for Europe to meet its 2050 goal of cutting emissions by 80%.
And it could breathe new life into climate negotiations after the disappointment of Copenhagen, which failed to achieve a binding international agreement to tackle climate change. UN talks, stalled since Copenhagen, are set to resume on 31 May.
The study explores ways to achieve deeper cuts and the implications of a higher target on emissions beyond the EU. Withholding carbon permits and using the permits to reward green industries are among the options considered.