European countries have agreed to a fresh cut in CO2 emissions covering the period after the Kyoto agreement finishes in 2012. The agreement calls for a cut of 20 per cent on 1990 levels but that figure will rise to 30 per cent if it can be agreed internationally.

The agreement has been hailed as “historic” by Sigmar Gabriel, Environment Minister of Germany which holds the EU presidency. He said targets could be differentiated depending “on the economic situation in the country”.

Poland and Hungary had both voiced concerns ahead of yesterday’s vote, but neither country stood in the way of a deal. However the detail remains to be worked out and European countries will now negotiate a “burden sharing” regime.

This will allow the less developed eastern European nations to catch up economically while their wealthier counterparts compensate by cutting emissions more than the average figure. Germany could, said Gabriel, attain a 40 per cent cut in CO2 to help bring average reductions down.

Mahi Sideridou of Greenpeace said: “We happily welcome the 30 per cent emission cut proposed for the EU and for developed countries for 2020. Ministers have listened to the science and made a leap forward in addressing the climate crisis. But to then suggest a meagre 20 per cent unilateral EU emissions cut, while admitting this is inadequate and that a 30 per cent cut will be necessary, is a bizarre discrepancy.”