Under the European Commission’s proposals, each European Union state has its own legally binding target for increasing the share of renewables, such as wind and solar power, in its energy mix.

At the top of the scale, Sweden, which already generates most of its electricity from nuclear and hydro­electric power, is being asked to raise renewables to 49 per cent of the country’s overall energy use. At the lower end of the scale, Belgium, Cyprus, the Czech Republic and Hungary are each being asked to meet a 13 per cent target.

As long as the EU’s overall target of renewable energy accounting for 20 per cent by 2020 is met, member states will be allowed to make their contribution by promoting production of renewables outside their borders.

Such an option may prove attractive in the UK, which generates a mere 2 per cent of its energy from renewables – the lowest of the EU’s biggest economies. Under the proposals, the UK must increase its renewables share to 15 per cent.

The Commission estimates that, by shifting investment to places where renewable energy can be most efficiently produced, the EU could cut the cost of meeting its overall 20 per cent target by €1.8bn ($2.6bn, £1.3bn).

A more controversial feature of the Commission’s plan is its demand that biofuels account for 10 per cent of transport fuel by 2020. Critics say that, given the current state of technology, large-scale biofuel production risks damaging the environment and does not even guarantee a net reduction in carbon emissions.

“Agri-fuels are not a panacea for our climate and energy problems,” said Caroline Lucas, a UK Green member of the European parliament. But the Commission insists that it will enforce strict rules on bio­fuels production and imports to ensure the environment is protected.

John Hutton, the UK’s secretary of state for business, said: “The UK remains committed to meeting its share of the EU renewables target, which will be decided in the negotiations ahead, and the Commission’s proposals are a welcome starting point for that discussion.”

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