Says it cannot stand alone on Kyoto Protocol if other major emitters do not come aboard.

The European Union is taking a two-step approach to global climate negotiations. It is aiming for agreement on “content” at this year's U.N. summit in Cancun, Mexico, and wants to shunt off the controversy over the legally-binding “form” of any treaty to the 2011 summit in South Africa.

“We must not be dragged down by procedural issues,” said E.U. Commissioner for Climate Action, Connie Hedegaard, discussing the new European strategy during a visit to India on Friday. “Instead, let us spend more time on negotiating what we are actually going to do.”

Ms. Hedegaard discussed the expectations for the Cancun summit with Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh on Friday, even as negotiators met in Bonn for the first formal climate talks of the year.

Developing countries have been wary of agreeing to a legally-binding treaty that would force them to take on legal emission reduction obligations as well. Instead, they want rich countries to first agree on fresh legal obligations during a post-2012 second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol. Disagreement about the legal nature of any new treaty was among the factors that caused a breakdown in U.N. talks at Copenhagen last year.

Ms. Hedegaard now says the Cancun negotiations should ignore this controversy on the legal nature of the treaty, and instead focus on incorporating the elements of the Copenhagen Accord, an unofficial political agreement, into the formal U.N. negotiating process. The discussions on forestry, adaptation and technology also need to be finalised at Cancun, she said.

She warned that if major emitters — including the U.S., India and China — do not come on board a legally binding commitment, then Europe could not be expected to stand alone on the Kyoto Protocol. “We can be open to a second commitment period provided other major emitters also step up. We cannot stand alone,” she insisted.

Does this mean Kyoto is being trashed? “You should ask someone else that question,” she said, pointing at the U.S. as well as major developing countries such as China and India, who have hesitated to take on binding commitments. “Europe is not the problem…We are ready, but other partners need to move their position if we are to go forward.”