PARIS - Environment watchdogs rejected Europe's 2030 greenhouse gas-curbing plan as inadequate Wednesday but the UN climate chief hailed it as a "positive" step towards a new international pact against global warming.
Traditionally a pacesetter at UN climate talks, the European Union has come under mounting pressure from poorer, vulnerable countries to beef up its pledges to cut heat-trapping carbon emissions.
On Wednesday, the European Commission, the 28-nation bloc's executive, proposed a binding reduction in greenhouse gases of 40% by 2030 from 1990 levels.
Renewables should account for at least 27% of the total energy mix by 2030, it said. This overall goal would be binding on the EU but not national governments.
"(Europe's pledge) is the benchmark for other countries. It is the first party out of the gate with an offer," said Jennifer Morgan, climate director at the World Resources Institute in Washington.
"It goes in the right direction, but it is not there yet," she said.
"That 40% is just at the bottom of what scientists are recommending."
Christiana Figueres, head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), welcomed the announcement as a "positive signal for (a) meaningful 2015 agreement."
2015 Global Climate Pact
UN members have vowed to conclude a new global climate pact in Paris in December 2015.
The deal, to take effect from 2020, will seek to limit average global warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial levels.
The Association of Small Island States (AOSIS), grouping island nations threatened by rising seas, was critical.
"The lack of ambition demonstrated in the EU's 2030 policy framework is disappointing," the group's lead negotiator, Olai Uludong, said in an email.
"If this is accepted as a starting point for tackling the climate crisis then we certainly have a lot of work to do to ensure the world reaches an agreement by 2015 that is commensurate with the scale of the challenge we face."
Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a U.S.-based monitor, said EU leaders "risk setting a very low bar" for other countries fleshing out their own negotiating postures.
"That in turn will lead to a post-2020 agreement in Paris next year that will be totally insufficient."
Greenpeace said the proposals were "disappointing" given that renewables had the potential to supply nearly half of Europe's energy by 2030.
"The commission's plan for 2030 is a sellout that would knock the wind out of a booming renewables industry," said Greenpeace's Mahi Sideridou.
The Bare Minimum
NGOs urged EU member states to raise the target when they meet at a summit in March.
Economist Nicholas Stern, author of a landmark 2006 report on the cost of climate change, said a 40% cut was the minimum.
"Billions of euros of private investment in the low-carbon transition could be unleashed if the 2030 target gives greater confidence to companies, particularly in the power sector, that the European Union is on an optimal path towards the long-term goal of reducing emissions by at least 80% by 2050," he said.
The BUSINESSEUROPE lobby group said the target was only realistic if a binding climate pact was concluded next year.
The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) insisted that EU member states must have flexibility to "decarbonize" in the most cost-effective way.
"It is now imperative that we get political agreement on these proposals, which will provide some much needed certainty for investors," the CBI said.
The 2030 blueprint replaces an earlier plan for a 20% cut in European emissions by 2020 and a 20% share for renewables.
By the end of 2012, the EU had cut emissions by 18 percent, while renewables had a share of 12.4 percent in 2010, according to the latest official figures.
Mariette Le Roux, AFP
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2014