Instead, the ministers decided to defer decisions on concrete figures for the EU's contribution to a post-Kyoto climate treaty until the European summit next week. This got the 'climate super week' - which was to see two ministerial meetings agree the EU's position for the UN climate conference in Copenhagen - off to a bad start.
Swedish Finance Minister Andreas Borg described the outcome of the Council as "disappointing" and complained of "a lack of commitment by certain member states".
"However, the components of an agreement were on the table and with more pragmatism from certain capitals, we will resolve these issues and the EU will drive the climate process forward," he said.
The talks stalled on the issue of internal burden-sharing. Poland headed a coalition of Central and Eastern European countries that have argued over the past months that any decision on funding should come after the EU has decided how much each member state will have to pay.
The Swedish EU Presidency had hoped that the Council would produce conclusions with concrete figures on upfront EU financing until 2013 as well as the yearly contributions necessary until 2020. It was supported by a number of countries including the UK, the Netherlands and Denmark.
But they failed to reassure Eastern member states, which are worried that they will end up paying a disproportionate share compared to their wealth.
In September, the European Commission said that the total climate aid needs would climb to €100 billion annually by 2020 (EurActiv 11/09/09). It suggested that the EU pay €2-15 billion of this, and earmark €5-7 billion to fast-track financing to pay for the transition period from the Kyoto Protocol, between 2010 and 2013.
EU leaders now have these crucial decisions on their hands as they meet next week in Brussels. Other aspects of the global deal are also being debated today by environment ministers.
Parliament calls for €30bn
In the meantime, MEPs called on EU heads of state and government to show leadership in the international negotiations by committing at least €30 billion annually by 2020 to help developing countries cut emissions and adapt to the inevitable consequences of climate change.
The European Parliament's environment committee yesterday (20 October) voted overwhelmingly in favour of a draft resolution that urged the negotiators in Copenhagen to agree a collective emission-reduction target for developed countries at the high end of the 25-40% range by 2020 and at least 80% by 2050, compared to 1990 levels.
Developing countries, for their part, should limit emissions growth to 15-30% below business as usual, it said.
Moreover, these targets should be reviewed every five years against the latest scientific developments, MEPs said. This will be necessary to ensure that global warming does not exceed 2°C, considered to be the threshold after which climate change will be catastrophic.
Lawmakers argued that both financing and targets to slash emissions would have to be subject to a tougher compliance regime than under the Kyoto Protocol. This should include an early warning mechanism and penalties, they said.