Europe bids fair to become the 'the first economy for the low-carbon age'.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso announced Wednesday radical plans to cut down greenhouse gas emissions by member states.
Emissions of two greenhouse gases, methane and carbon dioxide have reached record high, says World Meteorological Organization, an agency of the United Nations.
Many greenhouse gases occur naturally, such as water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone. Others such as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) result exclusively from human industrial processes. Carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere by the burning of solid waste, wood and wood products, and fossil fuels (oil, natural gas, and coal).
Nitrous oxide emissions occur during various agricultural and industrial processes, and when solid waste or fossil fuels are burned.
Methane is emitted when organic waste decomposes, whether in landfills or in connection with livestock farming.
Methane emissions also occur during the production and transport of fossil fuels.
When sunlight strikes the Earth's surface, some of it is reflected back towards space as infrared radiation (heat). Greenhouse gases absorb this infrared radiation, trap the heat in the atmosphere and reemit the waves downward causing the temperature of the earth to go up.
And this is called the 'greenhouse effect,' because of a similar effect produced by the glass panes of a greenhouse, where plants are grown under controlled conditions.
In a series of landmark reports last year, the U.N.'s network of climate scientists warned of severe consequences from rising seas, droughts, severe weather, species extinction and other effects without sharp cutbacks in emissions of the industrial, transportation and agricultural gases blamed for warming.
Jose Manuel Barroso said Europeans wanted 'a vision and a plan of action' against climate change and the measures would cost 3 euros a week for every citizen.
He confirmed the goal of cutting 20% from Europe's carbon emissions by 2020 compared with 1990 levels, and generating one-fifth of the European Union's power from renewable sources by that time.
He also said work had to be begun to cut global emissions in half by 2050 and he said Europe could lead the way.
Addressing business critics who have complained that the proposals might drive industry away from the European Union, the commission president said energy-intensive industries would be give emission allowances free of charge.
He told the parliament at Brussels the package was 'not in favour of the environment and against the economy'.
He said they would increase energy security as well as addressing climate change, while creating thousands of new businesses and millions of jobs.
'We don't want to export our jobs to other parts of the world,' he said.
But environmentalists expressed their unhappiness. The director of Friends of the Earth UK, Tony Juniper, went to the extent of dismissing the new proposals a 'disgrace'.
'Europe wants to be a world leader in tackling global warming, but its carbon-reduction target is far weaker than the one agreed at last month's UN climate summit in Bali,' he said. 'Scientists warn that a cut of at least 30% is required to prevent a climatic catastrophe. The EU must take urgent action. The solutions already exist, what we lack is political ambition and courage."
Stephen Singer, head of the European climate and energy unit of the global conservation organization WWF, said: 'The European commission presented a relatively weak proposal and not a single European country supported more ambitious targets ... Overall, it is a very small effort to cope with a threat that might lead to Arctic melting and displacement of millions of people in developing countries because of increased floods.'
Green MEP for the south-east, Caroline Lucas, said: 'It is a serious source of regret that the EU commission has based its climate package on a mere 20% greenhouse gas reduction by 2020.
'Member states have committed to a 30% greenhouse gas reduction (which is in line with the reduction scientists agree is the minimum necessary) assuming an international agreement is reached. By setting the bar lower from the outset, the EU is negatively prejudging the outcome of international climate negotiations and sending the wrong signal to the rest of world.'
The commission has stuck with its target of biofuels for 10% of all road fuel in Europe - and in Britain - by 2020, but introduced sustainability criteria because of fears about the environmental impact of growing fuel crops.
Biofuels used in the EU must be proven to provide a real saving in emissions of at least one-third compared with fossil fuels, and be produced using agricultural best practices. They must not be produced on 'land of high biodiversity' or with high carbon stocks.
But Robert Bailey, Oxfam's international spokesman, said the strategy 'failed to protect the land, livelihoods and human rights of vulnerable people, and create a huge threat to sustainable development where there should have been an opportunity'.
'It is untenable for the commission to proceed with this legislation in the knowledge that it is unlikely to deliver on its primary policy objective of reducing emissions from transport.'
Revisions have been proposed in the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) too.
Under the UN Kyoto Protocol, a legally binding global agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, industrialised nations are obliged to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere.
The EU is required to cut its emissions by 8% from 1990 levels by 2012. The ETS is Europe's main mechanism to achieve this.
Since the beginning of 2005, about 12,000 energy-intensive plants in the EU have been able to buy and sell permits that allow them to emit carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere.
Companies that exceed their individual limit are able to buy unused permits from firms that have taken steps to cut their emissions.
Under the new norms, apart from a few exempt industries, the power sector would lose the right to free emission allocations and have to buy all its permits at auction from 2013. Aviation and other industries would move gradually to a full auction.
Companies' carbon allowances would be decided at European level, replacing the current system where nations submit bids to the commission.
The aim would be to reduce allowances so that by 2020, emissions from the sectors included would be about 21% below the level they were when the ETS started in 2005.
For emissions not covered by the ETS, such as transport, buildings and agriculture, the commission has proposed national targets.
Richer nations would have to cut their emissions: the target for Denmark and the Irish Republic is a 20% reduction and the UK's is 16%. The poorest would be allowed to increase emissions, Bulgaria by 20% and Romania by 19%.
Each country has been given a national target for renewable energy.
The UK's is 15%. Sweden which already has a thriving renewables industry has been given a tougher figure of 49%.
Countries would be allowed to trade investment in renewables facilities.
Before the commission's proposals are adopted, they will have to be endorsed by members of the European Parliament and member states. The final package might not come into force before the end of 2009.