EU nations announced an ambitious target to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2020 in one of the boldest moves yet to contain global warming -- a goal likely to lead to mandatory limits for cars and pollution permits for airlines.
But the goal -- to cut emissions to 20 percent below their 1990 levels -- could put a heavy burden on the EU's newest members, and it was unclear how much of the load wealthier nations would shoulder.
Environment ministers said on Tuesday that the target could be pushed up to 30 percent below the 1990 levels if other industrial countries sign on to a global effort.
German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel said many European colleagues had spoken of a moral duty toward future generations during the talks in Brussels.
"Those who took the floor said that their daughters asked them exactly what they did when they came to such meetings and did they come home with good results," Gabriel said.
The target, which must be passed at an EU summit next month, is a critical first step in a global warming strategy that must be in place by the time the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012. The protocol requires 35 industrial nations to cut carbon dioxide and other harmful gases collectively by 5 percent from 1990 levels.
The EU ministers called for UN-led talks to finish by 2009 to fix a new climate change goal after Kyoto expires. The next agreement should include the US -- which rejected Kyoto -- and other less developed polluting countries like India, China, Mexico, Brazil and South Africa.
EU officials said they would now work on the details of how their target would be shared out and reached.
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