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Britain is ready to push for a ground-breaking new EU deal to tackle climate change. The Lib-Con coalition is understood to be broadly supportive of seeking a new European agreement to unilaterally cut carbon dioxide emissions by 30 per cent by 2020.

The EU was previously only prepared to commit to such a target if other countries such as America and China increased their effort to fight global warming.

But EU environmental commissioner Connie Hedegaard says the EU must revive international climate change talks, which stalled in Copenhagen in December, by seizing the initiative, not least because the economic downturn has already resulted in unexpected CO2 cuts of about 10 per cent through factor closures and reduced working.

The Liberal Democrat manifesto backed increasing the unilateral EU target from 20 per cent CO2 cuts to 30 per cent on 1990 levels – to be achieved within a decade.

While adopting such a move could burnish David Cameron’s green credentials, he would face opposition from Conservatives in Parliament.

“It’s completely wrong. It’s crazy,” said former Tory Chancellor Lord Lawson. “It would be extremely damaging for manufacturing and British business generally and would also add considerably to fuel poverty.”

A spokesman for the Department for Energy and Climate Change stressed it was “early days” for any plan to cut emissions unilaterally. He added: “This is going to require discussions at EU level to reach a common position.”

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