LUXEMBOURG Western European countries gave strong backing to deeper cuts to climate-warming emissions on Friday, but Italy's environment minister said her peers were deluded.
The sudden enthusiasm for ambitious climate action came as a surprise after French and German economy ministers opposed deeper cuts last month, saying the main priority was safeguarding the competitiveness of European industry.
French ecology minister Jean-Louis Borloo said in a statement that France was on track to cut carbon dioxide emissions to more than 30 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and Europe should raise its ambitions.
"France believes work should be expedited to produce a detailed study of the possible options for embarking on a trajectory that would reach 30 percent as soon as possible," Borloo said in a statement.
The EU currently plans to cut CO2 by 20 percent over the next decade and has always said it would only deepen to 30 percent on the condition that other countries around the world take similar steps.
But Borloo said those conditions had largely been met, and other officials at the meeting said the move could be made unilaterally.
"We believe a move to 30 percent is achievable, right for the climate and right for our economies as Europe focuses on a sustainable economic recovery," UK Energy and Climate Secretary Chris Huhne said in a statement.
Italian environment minister Stefania Prestigiacomo said the talks between environment ministers had become detached from reality, and did not reflect the positions in national capitals.
But the fact that Borloo and Huhne voiced their ambitions in written statements suggested they had the backing of their leaders.
"It would be a misconception if you sort of think that, well, here environment ministers they speak out of the blue," said European climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard.
"Of course here they are representing their governments and what they say will be reflecting the point of views of their governments," she added.
Swedish environment minister Andreas Carlgren said the conditionality of previous pledges to move to 30 percent had been a useful lever in global climate negotiations last year, but should now be seen differently
"I think conditionality was very useful in the run-up to Copenhagen, but it doesn't play that role any more," he told reporters. "We are prepared to upgrade the EU target as soon as conditions are there. At the right point. We're not there yet."
(Additional reporting by Charlie Dunmore and Julien Toyer)