Brussels has called for a debate on new measures to require coal and gas companies to pay for expensive equipment that captures greenhouse gas emissions to tackle global warming.

The contentious idea is one of many proposals the European Commission published on Wednesday, as it began a three-month consultation on the shape of its next batch of climate change targets.

The 27 members of the EU agreed more than five years ago to several targets to reach by 2020. Those included a mandatory goal to get 20 per cent of the bloc’s energy from renewable sources such as wind farms, and another to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent from 1990 levels.

Connie Hedegaard, climate commissioner, and others eager to keep the environmental agenda afloat despite the eurozone crisis, have now succeeded in pushing Brussels to start working on a new round of 2030 targets.

But the debate is likely to prove more fraught than the discussions that led to the 2020 goals, as Ms Hedegaard conceded in an interview on Wednesday.

“The economic crisis makes nothing easier,” she said. “Of course there will be people arguing, ‘Can’t we wait until after the crisis?’ I just think that’s obviously not a good solution for the climate, it’s not good for investors and it’s not good for the energy sector.”

The commission plans to publish a “2030 framework” on climate and energy policies by the end of the year, once the consultation is done.

Ms Hedegaard said it was not yet clear if that meant a firm legislative proposal or an agreement on the sorts of issues to keep discussing. It would depend on the consultation feedback, she said.

The most fierce point of contention is likely to centre on the commission’s call for a debate about the level of emissions cuts or renewables required by 2030, and on whether targets should continue to be compulsory or not.

A 2050 EU energy “road map” suggests emissions cuts of 40 per cent from 1990 levels will be needed by 2030 to meet the bloc’s 2050 goal of reducing emissions by at least 80 per cent in the most cost effective way possible.

But whether agreement among the 27 EU states on that proves possible in the current economic climate remains to be seen.

Some, such as Germany, are expected to back a strong 2030 renewable energy target, but others such as the UK have historically been less keen on such a measure.

Part of the commission’s consultation focuses on the EU’s troubled efforts to develop commercially viable equipment to capture and store the carbon dioxide emissions from power plants that burn fossil fuels such as coal and gas.

A consultation paper on the issue urges debate on fresh measures to develop the technology, including an emission performance standard and a requirement for energy utilities to install carbon capture-ready equipment for all new coal and gas plant investments.

It also asks if Brussels should get fossil fuel providers to contribute to carbon capture deployment “through specific measures that ensure additional financing”, an idea the industry is unlikely to readily embrace.

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