BRUSSELS (Reuters) - EU ministers must agree by March 20 a European Union goal to cut the bloc's emissions by at least 40 percent as its official contribution to U.N. climate change talks, French Energy Minister Segolene Royal said on Thursday.
France will host a Paris conference at the end of the year to try to agree a new global deal on curbing planet-warming emissions and the European Commission, the EU executive, has called on all the big polluters to make early promises to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Environment ministers will debate the official EU contribution, known as an intended nationally determined contribution (INDC), at talks in Brussels on Friday, but diplomats said formal endorsement might be delayed until a summit of EU heads of state and government on March 20.
Royal said that was the ultimate deadline.
"We have to be the first in the world to put forward our contribution to Paris. We have to lead by example," she said. "It is crucial to reach concrete results by March 20."
A draft document drawn up by Latvia, current holder of the EU presidency, says the official INDC for the European Union will be a binding target of a 40 percent cut in emissions by 2030, compared to levels emitted in 1990.
The target has to be achieved domestically rather than through offsets that allow member states to buy into carbon-cutting schemes outside Europe.
EU diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, say the 40 percent target will have to be shared out among member states and debate over exactly how that will be achieved is unlikely to be completed before the Paris conference, which starts at the end of November.
One option is to share out the effort based on a member state's GDP per capita.
Some member states, such as Poland, which relies on highly polluting coal, and industry have said there is no point in Europe making huge promises that could undermine its competitiveness when bigger polluters are doing less.
Environmental campaign group WWF said in a statement the EU was not being ambitious enough.
(Reporting by Alister Doyle in Oslo and Barbara Lewis and Francesco Guarascio in Brussels; Editing by Andrew Heavens)