Green campaigners pressed the case for an ambitious new decade of energy and environment policy on Wednesday as the European Commission kicked off debate on 2030 goals, seeking to balance economic reality with climate concerns.
Environment groups say a possible new target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent from 1990 levels - implied from EU documents - fails to address their climate change fears.
They want another triple set of targets along the lines of the 2020 goals - to cut carbon emissions by 20 percent from 1990 levels, get 20 percent of energy from renewable sources and increase energy savings to 20 percent versus business as usual.
Brook Riley, climate and energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth (FoE), called on Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso to show leadership.
"If he's (Barroso) serious about climate action, he needs to show national governments the benefits of three 2030 targets to cut carbon emissions, save energy and develop renewable energies," he said.
Spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen said the Commission had had an initial debate on Wednesday about what she called the "sensitive political and economic context" and the EU's desire to be in vanguard in tackling climate change.
A preliminary policy paper would be published in March, she said.
An EU source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there was no decision yet on firm targets, although there was "support for the idea of a legislative proposal" by the end of the year.
A Commission internal briefing note seen by Reuters says early agreement is needed to tie in with the "long investment cycles" of the energy sector.
The note said EU energy and climate road maps to 2050 implied the need for a 40 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, compared with 1990 levels.
The Commission says the bloc is on track to meet its 2020 carbon cutting and renewables goals, which were agreed by EU governments before the financial crisis brought austerity and recession to many parts of the European Union.
But the target on energy savings will only be met in part and environmentalists argue that proves the case for legally enshrined targets.
They say a new triple set of goals has financial and environmental logic because it would save consumers and business money as well as ensuring secure and sustainable energy supplies.
Conservation organization WWF earlier this month said the 2030 policy could pave the way for 100 percent green energy by 2050 provided it was ambitious enough.
It argued for energy savings of at least 38 percent compared with business as usual, obtaining 40 percent of fuel from green sources and cutting CO2 emissions by 50 percent.
With Climate Action Network Europe, an umbrella group, FoE commissioned a report from Dutch consultancy Ecofys, which analyzed the implications of cutting energy consumption by about 35 percent compared with 2005 levels.
The financial benefits, it said, would be about 250 billion euros ($333.9 billion) a year by 2030, derived from a combination of lower energy prices following lower demand and a reduced need to invest in infrastructure, lowering the cost of power generation.
E.ON CEO Johannes Teyssen said it would be a mistake to have as many targets as in 2020, but supported a strong carbon goal.
"We definitely should not do what we did for 2020 when we agreed three almost national targets. We need one target on carbon. It should be approximately 50 percent for industry and power for 2030," he told Reuters.