Davey defends stance on renewables
Energy Secretary Ed Davey has defended the UK's drive against new binding renewable energy targets, claiming it will make it cheaper to tackle climate change.
His comments came as the European Commission published a series of proposals for curbing global warming up to 2030, including a target to cut greenhouse gas emissions across the European Union by 40% on 1990 levels.
It also set out proposals for a EU-wide binding target to meet 27% of energy consumption from renewables by 2030.
But following lobbying from a number of countries including the UK, it has backed away from setting binding renewables targets for individual countries.
The European Commission also shied away from new legislation to govern fracking across the bloc, although it published recommendations for minimum environmental and safety standards that EU countries should meet.
The UK had argued for a 40% reduction in emissions by 2030, with a potential increase to 50% if a global deal on tackling climate change could be agreed in Paris at the end of 2015.
But the Government had also lobbied against setting a binding renewables target for individual countries - which had been included in a similar EU package of climate measures for 2020 - and against new EU regulations on fracking.
Mr Davey said: " Today's proposals are a step in the right direction towards an ambitious emissions reduction target for Europe.
"They provide the flexibility to tackle climate change in the most cost-effective way, so that British consumers aren't paying over the odds to go green.
"A 40% greenhouse gas target for Europe is a good start which the UK fought hard for, and will lead to massive investment in low carbon energy, including many more renewables.
"Yet Britain has been clear that Europe must be ready to adopt a 50% target if the rest of the world is prepared to sign an ambitious global climate deal in 2015."
He said analysis suggested that the UK could meet its share of the 40% cut on its existing carbon reduction plans, and that meeting the 40% goal across Europe would deliver around 27% of energy from renewables.
In response to concerns that there was no renewables target for individual countries for 2030, he said the coalition had legislated for a "decarbonisation" target to be set in 2016, which would slash emissions from the power sector.
The lack of a renewables target for each country will allow all low-carbon technologies, nuclear, carbon capture and storage technology and renewables, to compete in the 2020s.
This "technology neutral" approach would allow the UK to cut emissions in order to tackle the threat of climate change without putting up consumer bills disproportionately, he said.
"The coalition Government has wanted to make sure we go green but we do it at the lowest possible cost ," he added.
Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard said a lack of country-level targets provided the extra flexibility needed in the policy to ensure it would be backed by the 28 governments of the EU.
And European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said setting a binding European target for renewables sent " an important signal: to give stability to investors, boost green jobs and support our security of supply."
He also said the "ambitious 40% greenhouse reduction target for 2030 is the most cost-effective milestone in our path towards a low-carbon economy".
But the 2030 package of measures on climate and energy was immediately attacked by environmental campaigners, who said it would do enough to tackle climate change or give certainty to the EU's clean tech sector.
Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven said: "After months of bickering and in-fighting, the European Commission has produced a set of proposals that will satisfy almost no-one.
"They will do little to tackle climate change and in their current form give little certainty to Europe's once thriving but now fragile clean tech sector."
Ivan Scrase, RSPB climate campaigner, said: " A dangerous gulf is opening up between the reality of climate change, which threatens to cause huge suffering and drive many species into extinction, and European leaders' commitment to tackling it.
"A 40% greenhouse gas target is not nearly enough, and the 27% renewables target - which comes with an opt out clause - is unambitious."
Environmentalists also raised about the lack of EU-wide regulation on shale gas exploitation.
Mr Davey argued the UK already had a robust regulatory regime for shale in place, and many EU regulations would apply to shale, so a guideline approach made sense to avoid delaying the development of the new industry.
But Friends of the Earth energy campaigner Tony Bosworth said: "The EU's failure to introduce binding regulations for fracking shows a real disregard for the environmental risks faced by communities across Europe.
"The UK Government must take much of the blame for this - it proclaims the benefit of regulation at home but has led the charge against action in Brussels."
The 2030 package does not include a target for improving energy-efficiency, which the Commission said would be assessed later in the year.
There are also no new targets for cleaning up transport fuel used in the EU - effectively opening the door for polluting "tar sands" produced in Canada to enter the bloc.
But there are proposed measures to reform the struggling EU-wide emissions trading scheme from 2021.