Jacqueline McGlade, the EU's chief environment expert, believes Europe needs a Marshall plan of investment - up to several percentage points of GDP per year - to reduce the vulnerability to climate change.
Europe also must lead by example on global warming, especially in reducing the use of coal and encouraging action in the developing world, the head of the Copenhagen-based European Environment Agency (EEA) told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa in an exclusive interview.
Speaking ahead of the EU's planned release this week of what she called a "very ambitious climate change and energy package", McGlade said her agenda was to ensure that Europe was both united in its front on the environment and "doing its utmost" in the bloc's own environmental policies.
As head of the EEA which services the EU's 27 members as well as 10 other European countries, McGlade oversees Europe's environmental information system - a think tank and clearing house that studies economic, social and scientific aspects of global warming, air pollution, landfills, soil and sea health.
With Europe already falling short of its robust targets to reduce carbon emissions, the EU Commission's package would now "consolidate the targets and the way in which mitigation will go forward," the expert said.
A major advance had been the agreement in December to include aviation emissions in the EU's carbon trading scheme, she said.
But there was disagreement, especially in Germany, over the commission's recent approval of strict limits on automotive carbon dioxide emissions.
McGlade is also bracing or a fight within Europe on coal - an issue which, she says, is key to showing the way to booming China and India on emissions reductions. China for example was bringing a new coal plant online about every seven to 10 days.
"Europe must lead by example, with China and India" hopefully following that guidance, she said.
However, the bloc's track record on the environment had been less than illustrious, she criticized. "While at the same time wanting to meet very ambitious targets, we have the UK announcing a whole new generation of coal plants," said McGlade, a former environmental advisor to the British government.
"When confronted with the package countries like Poland and Germany must be seriously rethinking what that means if they are going to try to meet these much more aggressive emission targets."
"Ultimately, we will have to rethink the use of coal," McGlade said.
Europe should need little convincing of the threats posed by global warming. The 2003 European heat wave was blamed for 35,000 deaths. Greece and Britain witnessed extreme fires and floods just this summer that cost billions of dollars.
McGlade proposed a "Marshall Plan" for Europe to adapt to climate change and reconstruct itself to "reduce vulnerability for the coming century." More than just mitigation was needed in order to adapt to the effects of climate change, she said.
"It's gradually dawning on everyone that it's no good just building a flood defence a few feet higher," she said. "It's no good building new houses in areas where there will be drought."
The EU expert said she was optimistic that adaptation and mitigation were within reach, because the international will to do so was strong.
International investors, for example, were increasingly insisting that companies calculate their carbon footprint and reduce emissions. Venture capital was also flowing into green technology.
However, none of the steps needed will come cheap. Even more expensive than mitigation are the adaptive measures - such as rethinking the location of industrial and maritime shipping and building up fire and flood defences.
That could cost 3 to 5 per cent of GDP a year, McGlade said. She was pushing for each European country to have an adaptation plan by mid-2008, she added.
"It's remarkable that the scientific evidence has firmed up sufficiently so that pretty much the majority of (European) governments recognize they can't carry on without paying attention to it," she said.
Significantly, doing nothing could also cost up to 5 per cent of GDP in terms of social and infrastructure costs, according to former World Bank chief economist Nicholas Stern.
"While Kyoto has been discussed (in the past) in terms of burden sharing, the terminology has now shifted to benefit sharing," McGlade said.
She insisted it was up to Europe to present a common front in 2009 when the international community is due to meet in Copenhagen to mold environmental policies for the time after the 2012 expiry of the Kyoto Protocol.
McGlade declined to criticize the December Bali talks on climate change despite widespread dissatisfaction over the United States' foot-dragging at the first major post-Kyoto discussions.
The talks were "very very successful" in launching the formal negotiations for 2009, the said.
McGalde said she was especially proud that for the first time at such an international gathering, European countries had presented a coordinated position and did not have to horse-trade behind the scenes. This gave them an especially strong presence, she said.