Members of the European Parliament on Wednesday voted in favour of three climate and energy targets for 2030, rebuffing a Commission plan for just one fully binding goal.
The vote at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, has no legal force, but stokes debate before summit talks between European Union leaders in March on energy and environment policy and its impact on competitiveness.
It endorses fully binding goals for cutting climate emissions, improving energy efficiency and forcing member states to increase the amount of renewable energy they use.
The European Commission, the EU executive, in January presented its views on 2030 policy, calling for one fully binding goal to cut emissions by 40 per cent by 2030 as well as a weaker EU-wide target on green energy, which would not oblige individual nations to act.
That would give member states more freedom to decide how they meet the emission goal, for instance by opting to build carbon-free nuclear plants or bury emissions underground rather than subsidising the installation of new wind or solar power projects.
At the time, environmentalists criticised the Commission for listening to industry and lacking ambition, especially when the European Union has already nearly met a 2020 goal of cutting greenhouse gases by 20 per cent compared with 1990.
They welcomed Wednesday's vote, as did Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard, even though it clashed with the Commission's January decision.
It sent "a clear signal to EU governments to support a 40 per cent greenhouse gas target", her official Twitter feed said.
Whatever Europe decides will have a major influence on the international debate. Developing nations say the developed world must take on a big share of the work of cutting global emissions as part of a new U.N. deal on tackling climate change, expected to be agreed next year.
The Commission hopes that summit debate in March, followed by further summit talks in June, will produce political agreement on 2030 policy, but has said it does not expect to produce a formal legislative proposal until after parliamentary elections in May and a changeover of Commissioners later this year.
Within business, there are many shades of opinion. The renewables industry argues a mandatory target on how much green energy EU member states should use is essential.
Ninety European associations and companies, including Alstom , Dong Energy and Acciona have written an open letter calling for a legally binding target for renewable energy.
Utilities, such as Germany's E.ON, favour a single binding target on cutting carbon emissions, which they say is the most effective way to ensure a stronger carbon market that will engineer a shift away from coal, the most polluting form of power generation.