To the disappointment of environmentalists, the ministers parked a European Commission paper analysing the options for increasing the EU's emissions reduction goal to 30% until October at the latest.
But they mandated the Commission to conduct further analysis of the costs at national level for discussion in the autumn.
Many ministers voiced strong support for moving swiftly on upgrading the EU's current target to cut emissions by 20% below 1990 levels by 2020, despite comments by French and German industry ministers last month that they would not support higher climate ambitions as long as the competitiveness of European industry was in danger (EurActiv 26/05/10).
"France believes work should be expedited to produce a detailed study of the possible options for embarking on a trajectory that would reach 30% as soon as possible," said French Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo in a statement.
Europe says it will only move to 30% if other industrialised countries make similar commitments. Unveiling the analysis last month, Connie Hedegaard, European commissioner for climate action, stressed that the conditions were not yet right for a unilateral move (EurActiv 27/05/10).
Borloo, however, argued that the required conditions had by and large already been satisfied.
"We believe a move to 30% is achievable, right for the climate and right for our economies as Europe focuses on a sustainable economic recovery," said British Energy and Climate Secretary Chris Huhne.
But Italy's Environment Minister Stefania Prestigiacomo said the talks between the environment ministers did not reflect views in national capitals, according to reports.
Hedegaard insisted that the ministers were unlikely to "speak out of the blue" and represented their governments.
The issue, however, is likely to remain highly divisive, as Eastern European states in particular argue that they cannot afford to take on greater commitments to cut their emissions in times of recession.