A European action plan to improve energy efficiency can spearhead global efforts to reduce energy waste and cut greenhouse gases, Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett told an international conference today.

Sustainable energy use could be achieved only if the world was clear about its energy and environmental priorities and the international community worked together, she said.

Opening the two-day energy efficiency conference in London, Mrs Beckett said: "As an international community, we share common aims - to save energy, to ensure the security of our energy supplies and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

"But we need to solve some common problems - how to reduce our energy use without imposing financial burdens on our citizens or slowing our economic growth, and without damaging industrial competitiveness both in Europe and across the world. Mrs Beckett announced that the UK is leading the establishment of an international task force to help deliver G8 commitments and to promote more international cooperation on sustainable products.

The joint Defra-European Commission conference heard also from EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs, whose Green Paper on Energy Efficiency Mrs Beckett praised for stimulating debate within the European Union.

"We have the opportunity now to establish a framework for an energy efficient European Union looking ahead to 2020 and beyond. The EU's mandatory energy labelling scheme has proved beyond doubt the effectiveness of product information in promoting more energy efficient products by increasing consumer awareness and encouraging competition. We need to consider what more needs to be done to promote even greater consumer awareness.

"Our discussions over the coming two days will help inform both EU and wider priorities for international co-operation on energy efficiency." Mrs Beckett added that millions of consumers and manufacturers worldwide had the power to create greater demand for and supply of more energy-efficient goods and services. "It is millions of consumers and producers who ultimately decide through their purchases, through their behaviour and through their investment decisions how efficiently energy is used. "If we are to develop a market for services based on selling energy efficiency we need to look at how we can overcome barriers such as lack of demand for and investment in energy efficiency services and barriers to open competition within an energy market."