Denmark's wind farms, such as this one in the North Sea, provide 17 per cent of the country's energy. ((Heribert Proepper/Associated Press))

The European Commission presented its plan for tackling climate change on Wednesday in Brussels, with plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2020 to 20 per cent below 1990 levels.

The new proposals, which European Union nations and lawmakers must approve or amend before they can be enforced, call for an updated emission-trading system, national targets for industries outside that system and legally enforceable targets on the amount of energy countries acquire from renewable sources.

European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said the measures would cost Europeans an average of an extra three euros ($4.48 Cdn) a week.

"The cost of inaction is more than ten times that," he said in a speech Wednesday. "And every day the price of oil and gas goes up, the real cost of the package falls. Instead of costs, we really should be talking about gains for the EU.

"This package meets the challenges of the future. We think it's good for the planet, it's good for the European economy and it's good for its citizens," he said.

The commission's proposed main weapon for cutting greenhouse gases comes in the form of an emission-trading program.

Richer countries would have to do the most to rein in emissions, while some poorer countries, such as EU newcomer Romania, would be allowed to increase emissions as their economies expand. No country would have to cut emissions by more than one-fifth below 1990 levels.

By 2020, pollution permits could cost businesses 50 billion euros a year ($74.7 billion Cdn), the commission estimates. But officials said that cost will be offset by a reduction in the amount the EU pays for oil and gas imports.

The plan also envisions getting one-fifth of the EU's energy needs from renewable power by 2020.

Sweden already surpasses target

Many European countries would have to rapidly increase the amount of wind, solar or hydro power to hit the new binding targets.

Britain, which generates two per cent of its energy from renewable sources, would have to increase that amount to 15 per cent under the new measures. Sweden, meanwhile, already gets 40 per cent of its energy from renewable resources, while Denmark's wind farms provide 17 per cent of its energy.

EU employers raised concerns last week that the new measures will make them less competitive on the world market.

On the other side, environmentalists are concerned the proposals won't do enough to combat global warming. Greenpeace called the proposals "a good but faltering start," and called for cuts to greenhouse gas emissions to 30 per cent below 1990 levels.

With files from the Associated Press