The European Commission will ask the Government to significantly cut Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 in its new climate strategy, which is designed to hit the richest EU states hardest.
It will also restrict the State's ability to invest in clean energy projects abroad to offset higher emissions at home, a move that should force the first big cuts in Irish emissions.
The draft plan due to be published next week shares the burden of reducing CO2 emissions among all 27 EU states. It also sets legally binding targets for the percentage of total energy use accounted for from renewable energy.
The plan is based on the principle that the most onerous cuts should be shouldered by the countries with the highest gross domestic product (GDP) per capita. Under this formula, Ireland, which is now the second-richest state in the EU, will face cuts of up to 20 per cent by 2020, when compared to 2005. Poor countries such as Bulgaria will be allowed to increase emissions by up to 20 per cent.
"Member-state reduction efforts should be based on the principle of solidarity between member states and the need for sustainable economic growth across the community, taking into account the relative per capita GDP of member states," says the plan, which faces tough opposition. It will be vigorously debated and amended by diplomats until it is finally published on Wednesday.
EU sources confirmed yesterday that Ireland would face among the toughest individual targets because of its prosperity and poor track record on cutting emissions. However, it will benefit from an upper cap, which restricts the maximum emissions cut demanded from a single EU state to 20 per cent when compared to its emissions in 2005.
This cap means the maximum possible cut would reduce Ireland's CO2 emissions to 55 million tonnes by 2020, which is the same level of emissions as 1990 - the base year used under the Kyoto Protocol.
Under this global strategy, Ireland was allowed to increase its emissions to a level 13 per cent above the 1990 figures but, with just four years left of the Kyoto strategy, Irish emissions are 25 per cent, or 13 million tonnes, above 1990 levels.