(File photo) Shongwe said predictions for southern Africa saw the frequency of cold days significantly decreasing.

Brussels - Several of Europe's biggest energy companies said on Friday they would support deeper cuts to greenhouse gas emissions.

The move - by firms including including Britain's Scottish & Southern Energy, Denmark's Dong Energy and Dutch firm Eneco - highlights a growing rift between traditional heavy industries, which oppose tougher climate action in the EU, and a number of clean technology and service industries that want to go further.

They issued their statement ahead of EU climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard's launch of a strategy paper next Tuesday outlining her vision of the future.

The EU, home to 500 million people, has taken on some of the world's toughest climate commitments - to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to 20 percent below 1990 levels over the next decade.

Hedegaard's strategy will not seek to propose a new unilateral target, but is expected to highlight that energy saving measures could put the EU on track for a 25 percent cut at little cost to industry.

The companies that also include Norway's Statkraft, Italy's Sorgenia and Greece's Public Power said the EU should go further by embracing a formal target of 25 percent.

“As leaders of utility companies, we know that the benefits of early action far outweigh the costs of inertia or delayed action,” the heads of the firms said in a joint statement.

They underlined the economic benefits of reducing Europe's dependence on fossil fuels at a time of soaring oil prices, which many fear will derail a nascent recovery from the economic crisis.

The EU sends about 270 billion euros ($374.9 billion) a year overseas for oil, and 40 billion euros for gas.

The companies also agree with a need to tighten the cap on emissions under the EU's flagship carbon trading scheme, which could involve setting aside around 500 million to 800 million EU carbon permits.

“For the period after 2020, the (...) cap must be aligned with the pathway set out in the roadmap,” the firms said.

That puts them sharply at odds with Europe's steel industry, which fears the costs of cutting carbon will harm its ability to compete with overseas rivals in less regulated areas.

“We hope member states will not fall into this trap,” said Gordon Moffat, director general of steel industry body Eurofer.

Europe's governments are similarly split, with Britain and Spain in favour of deeper cuts, but coal-dependent economies such as Poland opposed.

The debate over deepening emissions curbs is expected to heat up in the months ahead. - Reuters