Europe’s climate chief has touted the benefits of adopting a more ambitious emissions reduction target, but said she was not prepared to recommend such a move at this time.

The careful comments from Connie Hedegaard, climate commissioner, coincided with the release of an official report on the costs of a move beyond the European Union’s current 20 per cent reduction target that has reawakened an acrimonious debate between industry and environmental groups.

The report, adopted by the Commission on Wednesday, concludes that the cost of a 20 per cent reduction had fallen from €70bn per year by 2020 to €48bn, thanks to the economic crisis, which has damped industrial production.

It found that a move to 30 per cent would cost an additional €33bn per year, but would also bring benefits such as cleaner air and more jobs in renewable energy and other “green” industries.

“What this analysis shows us is that the 30 per cent target is achievable,” said Ms Hedegaard.

The report marks Ms Hedegaard’s first attempt to reinvigorate the EU’s climate policy since the bloc failed to convince other nations to sign up to an ambitious agreement at Copenhagen in December. The UN negotiations restart on Monday.

That episode has led many to question the EU’s bargaining strategy, which Ms Hedegaard oversaw in her previous role as Denmark’s climate and energy minister, and prompted soul-searching about Europe’s influence in world affairs.

Seeking to head off a controversy, the commissioner on Wednesday characterised the report as a basis for informed discussion and said no policy changes were contemplated in the coming months.

But many business groups fear that it will be used as a pretext for a unilateral move to a 30 per cent target, which would put them at a further disadvantage to foreign competitors.

Several condemned its conclusions on Wednesday, although they praised language that reiterates the EU’s current policy of moving to 30 per cent only on the condition that other countries demonstrate similar effort.

“During these financially challenging times it is essential for European businesses that the European Commission avoids moving the goalposts,” said Arnoldo Abruzzini, the head of Eurochambres, the association of European chambers of commerce.

Member states have long been divided on the matter, with the UK pushing for a higher target and Poland, Italy and others staunchly opposed.

Chris Huhne, the UK’s secretary of state for energy and climate change, said: “Global climate change is the biggest challenge the world faces and securing an ambitious deal is a priority for this government. That’s why we will push for the EU to demonstrate leadership by supporting an increase in the EU emissions reduction target to 30 per cent by 2020.”

Ms Hedegaard acknowledged difficulties faced by industry, but argued that China, the US and others were racing past Europe in energy technology. The chief culprit, according to her analysis, was the economic crisis, which has reduced the price of carbon in the European emissions trading system, and thus removed the financial incentive for companies to invest in such technologies.

“We have not done as much on innovation as we would have liked,” Ms Hedegaard said, adding: “If we stand still, we will lose our frontrunner status.”

The commissioner also took a dim view of calls for a carbon border adjustment tax to be levied on imports from countries that refuse to sign an international climate agreement. France, in particular, has championed such initiatives.

Ms Hedegaard argued that such measures were impractical to implement and could lead to retaliation. “If you use that tool, you cannot be sure that others will not start using their tools,” she said.

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