The plans, announced by the EU executive Commission, drew fire from environmentalists, who hoped the EU executive would spell out goals for emissions cuts when the first period covered by the environmental treaty known as the Kyoto Protocol ends.
Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas defended the Commission's plans, however, saying targets at this stage would tie the EU's hand in international climate negotiations by scaring away countries who are not covered by Kyoto.
"At a certain moment, of course, we are going to have targets," Dimas told a news conference. "We think it is premature to use them now."
Setting targets has been a key part of EU environmental policy as a participant in the Kyoto treaty, which aims to cut carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by developed nations by 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by 2008-12. The treaty enters into force Feb. 16.
Dimas said the EU would maintain its leadership role and push for a post-2012 climate change plan that involves more big polluters like India, China, and the United States.
"The reduction commitments that the EU would be willing to take under such a regime should depend on the level and type of participation of other major emitters," a Commission paper said.
That statement rattled Greenpeace.
"What the European Commission is saying is they will wait and see what other nations are doing. That is the biggest threat to the EU position so far," climate expert Mahi Sideridou said.
"We are waiting for the environment ministers and the heads of state to develop the backbone that the Commission is currently lacking." EU leaders will discuss climate change at a summit this spring, when the Commission will present its views.
The EU executive said it would promote energy efficiency and a clampdown on aviation and maritime pollution in future climate change policy. A study on transport emissions will be published this summer. Both a kerosene tax and airline participation in the EU emissions trading scheme will be considered.
US President George W. Bush cited negative effects on the economy when Washington pulled out of Kyoto, but British Prime Minister Tony Blair said on Tuesday Washington wants to start discussing measures to combat climate change and may sign up to an agreement on the issue this year.
The EU wants to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Failure to do so, it says, will lead to increases in flooding and other natural disasters, heat waves, famine, and disease.
CO2 is one of the main greenhouse gases, which trap heat in the earth's atmosphere, causing temperatures to rise.
The Commission paper stressed that the bloc's actions to reduce climate change would not be without economic cost.
The Commission estimated that cutting the bloc's emissions annually by roughly 1.5 percentage points after 2012 "would reduce GDP in 2025 by about 0.5 percent below the level it would reach in the absence of such a proactive climate policy."
That scenario assumed participation of countries around the world in the climate change efforts, the document said.