(Adds context and quotes from environmental campaigners)
ATHENS May 14 The European Union will cut its carbon emissions in 2020 by a bigger margin than it has pledged it would under United Nation climate change treaties, a meeting of the bloc's environment ministers was told on Wednesday.
"Europe will be overachieving in 2020," Hans Bruyninckx, Executive Director of the European Environment Agency said after presenting his organisation's findings to ministers and European Commission officials in Athens.
The EU has unilaterally pledged under the U.N. Kyoto Protocol for Climate Change to reduce its emissions to 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.
The bloc has already almost met that target and now expects to beat it easily by 2020. "For the year 2020, total emissions are projected to be 24.5 percent below base year levels," it said in a document submitted to the U.N. on April 30.
Environmental campaigners welcomed the lower EU emissions but said this was no substitute for setting deeper targets.
"Without targets and new policies there is no guarantee that circumstances won't change and emissions rise back up," said Wendel Trio of green group coalition CAN Europe.
The ministers were meeting ahead of next month's resumption of U.N. climate talks in Bonn, Germany, when nations with Kyoto targets had agreed to review their commitments under the pact.
Trio said there was no chance the EU would agree on a deeper commitment at the summit but urged the bloc to toughen its goal eventually to "pile pressure on other big emitters into taking more action."
Scientists and environmental campaigners have urged the bloc to continue its leadership in tackling climate change to ensure global temperature rises are kept below the 2 degree Celsius level that U.N.-backed scientists say is needed to prevent a huge increase in droughts, flooding and rising sea levels.
But EU member states remain split over how to meet an even more ambitious Commission proposal to cut carbon emissions by 40 percent in 2030, the bloc's Greek EU Presidency said.
"There are three groups of member states," said Greek Energy and Environment Minister Yannis Maniatis. Some member states support the Commission's proposal while others hesitate to adopt any targets at all. A third group, including Greece, wants to go even further, Maniatis said.
The EU has pledged to agree on the 2030 targets and measures by October. (Reporting by Harry Papachristou, Ben Garside and Alister Doyle, editing by David Evans)