The European Commission will hold three meetings with key industry groups this summer to thrash out whether the free allocation of carbon permits to big polluters should continue after 2020, when current measures expire.

The announcement follows the failure last month by EU leaders to agree on the bloc's 2030 energy and climate goals, instead setting an October deadline amid divisions over whether to firm up the plan ahead of global talks on tackling climate change.

"The results of the consultations will provide input to the European Council's October 22-23 discussions on the 2030 climate and energy framework," the Commission said on its website.

In January, Brussels proposed setting an EU-wide greenhouse gas reduction goal of 40% below 1990 levels by 2030, deepening the current 2020 target of a 20% cut.

That target would lower the cap on emissions for over 13,000 companies under the Emissions Trading System (ETS), which regulates around half of the bloc's greenhouse gas output and obliges firms to hold one permit for every tonne of carbon they emit.

The EU allows energy intensive industries such as BASF and Arcelor Mittal to receive the vast majority of their carbon permits under the EU’s Emissions Trading System (ETS) for free.

These companies say that competition from countries without such regulations could otherwise force them to relocate abroad, an empirically unproved phenomenon known as ‘carbon leakage’.  

The EU’s 2030 climate and energy communication indicated that an “improved and better focused” free allocation system would continue after 2020, unless other major economies introduced comparable legislation.

In the stakeholder meetings, industry will be consulted on:

  • Whether the current system provides adequate safeguards against carbon leakage
  • Whether free allocation impacts on incentives to innovate and cut emissions
  • The trajectory of decline for free allowances in the system after 2020 necessary to meet decarbonisation goals
  • Measuring the and monitoring the effect of climate and energy policy on industrial competitiveness.

The Commission said the first webstreamed meeting will be held on June 16, with the other two tentatively scheduled for July and September.

The EU is among a handful of bodies or nations that have agreed to legally-binding emission targets under the UN's Kyoto Protocol, but all nations have pledged to curb emissions under a new U.N. climate pact due to be signed in 2015 and to take effect from 2020.