BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Poland blocked an attempt by European Union environment ministers on Tuesday to strengthen EU action to combat climate change, prompting a swift rebuke from Britain's energy minister.
"I'm deeply disappointed that the only country in the EU that could not accept a good compromise on how we can move Europe to a low carbon economy was Poland," Chris Huhne said in a statement.
"It's a dark day for Europe's leading role in tackling climate change, but the UK together with its European colleagues will continue to make the economic case for tighter EU carbon targets so that we can make the most of the future green economy," he added.
But Polish environment minister Andrzej Kraszewski called for understanding of the economic situation of Europe's poorer states, and for more solidarity.
The move suggests friction on climate issues will increase in Europe during the second half of this year, when Poland holds the rotating presidency of the EU.
The stand-off occurred over the following two paragraphs of a declaration prepared for the ministers to endorse:
"The council of the EU recognises the milestones for EU domestic emission reductions... of 40 percent by 2030, 60 percent by 2040 and 80 percent by 2050, compared to the 1990 level."
"The council takes note of the Commission's finding that a 25 percent reduction by 2020 would be in line with the gradual cost-effective pathway..."
But the Polish government intervened, saying the statement about 25 percent reductions looked too much like an actual target, one official present at the meeting said.
"Analysis should be widely discussed and reflect the economic consequences for each member state," Kraszewski told reporters. "There will be another possibility to take common decisions."
Environmentalists were worried.
"This raises worries that Poland's EU presidency will be a wrecking-ball presidency," said Sanjeev Kumar of environment group E3G. "But the important thing is that 26 member states were united on the issue."
Setting a course beyond the EU's current 2020 horizon of emission cuts was also a contentious move with Europe's economic crisis making green investment increasingly difficult.
The mention of deeper emissions cuts entered controversial territory, after steelmakers recently challenged the EU's green strategy, saying the added cost would force them and other heavy polluters to relocate overseas.
That was rebuffed last week by 72 businesses who support deeper CO2 cuts.
Reporting by Pete Harrison; editing by Keiron Henderson