The US should reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, according to the EU climate action commissioner Connie Hedegaard.
Speaking in Washington she said that opting out of a major fossil fuel project would represent a landmark decision.
“If you had a USA administration that would avoid doing something that they could do, with the argument that in the time we are living in and with climate change we are faced with, we should not do everything we can do, then it would be a very, very interesting global signal,” she told the New York Times.
Hedegaard praised the repeated pledges by President Obama to tackle climate change in his State of the Union and Inauguration speeches.
“That is, of course, sweet music to European ears,” she said.
The Keystone XL pipeline would transport thick, bitumen like tar sands oil from Canada to refineries on the US Gulf Coast.
The EU is currently pushing through regulations to classify oil derived from tar sands as more polluting than crude oil in the face of fierce lobbying from Canada.
The Canadian tar sands are the second largest reserves of oil in the world behind only Saudi Arabia.
During the visit Hedegaard will meet with US climate change negotiator Todd Stern, members of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) which regulates emissions from power stations and US politicians currently attempting to pass climate legislation.
Plans to tackle greenhouse gas emissions from the aviation sector could also be on the agenda during the trip, after the US recently proposed a solution to the long-running spat.
The EU suspended the inclusion of international flights in its Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) after opposition from China, India, Russia and the US among others, who want a global agreement set through the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) instead.
ICAO’s three-yearly general assembly takes place this autumn and US plans to exclude emissions from flights while they are over international waters could be one proposal on the table.
There has been an upsurge in climate action in the US since November’s election. Climate change was noticeably absent as a campaign issue for both candidates until Hurricane Sandy.
California launched its carbon trading scheme, which has so far held a stronger price than many expected.
Two senators revealed proposals for a $20 carbon tax last month in a plan expected to garner more supported than cap and trade legislation that was flatly rejected in 2010.
The EPA is looking to extend its regulations on high emitting coal power stations. It also face a legal challenge over its classification of carbon dioxide as a pollutant, the key condition that allows it to regulate the greenhouse gas.
Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN’s climate advisory body, has pleaded for President Obama to base any future decisions on climate action, firmly in the science.
“I have always believed if you want action in the field of climate change, it has to be driven by an understanding, an application of what science has told us, what the IPCC has been telling us,” said Pachauri.
“So from that point of view, I think what President Obama said was particularly heartening.”