LUXEMBOURG European Union environment ministers -- responsible for only 11 percent of global carbon emissions -- said they would commit to a new phase of the Kyoto climate change pact, on the condition that nations blamed for the rest join up too.
The environment council conclusions, agreed in Luxembourg on Monday, outline the bloc's negotiating position ahead of the next global climate conference in Durban, South Africa, which starts at the end of November.
"What's the point of keeping something alive if you're alone there? There must be more from the 89 percent," EU Environment Commissioner Connie Hedegaard told Reuters.
The European Union stated the need for a road map that would indicate when the biggest emitters -- led by the United States, China and India -- would sign up. The milestones on the way, however, were imprecise.
A first commitment phase of the Kyoto Protocol -- the only global, legally-binding contract on tackling climate change -- ends at the end of next year and analysts say time has run out to get a new world-wide deal in place before then.
The United States signed, but has never ratified the Kyoto Protocol. Developing countries were excluded from the original pact signed in 1997, but have since become major emitters.
As a bloc, the EU has taken a lead with binding EU goals that exceed its Kyoto commitments.
It is in agreement with environmentalists and analysts that unless everyone joins in, it cannot solve global warming.
"If we do that (agree to a second commitment period) without any conditions attached, some would say we have saved Durban, but Durban would not result in one less tonne of carbon dioxide," Hedegaard told reporters.
"The easiest thing in the world is to bury this international process. The difficult thing is to find a way forward. We would have liked to see more progress, but we are trying to do our utmost to secure the only process that the world has so far."
Monday's meeting also tackled the issue of allowances under the Kyoto process, known as Assigned Amount Units (AAUs) and referred to by critics as "hot air.
The allowances to produce greenhouse gases up to a certain limit are divisive within the EU.
East European nations such as Poland, holder of the rotating EU presidency, are keen to hold on to a surplus they have, EU sources said, as they can sell them to governments struggling to meet Kyoto targets.
The environment council only managed to agree on an "ambitious approach to environmental integrity," EU sources said, without a firm decision on how many allowances could be carried over into a second phase of Kyoto after phase one expires.
Polish Environment Minister Andrzej Kraszewski told reporters the AAUs were a problem.
"We're going to have to continue to work on it," he said.
Denmark said it had long pressed for a discussion on restricting the amount of allowances to ensure they had value.
"We have not got very strong language on this," Danish Climate Minister Martin Lidegaard told Reuters, but said Denmark considered even loose wording amounted to a breakthrough.
The EU carbon market did not react to Monday's conclusions, which were broadly in line with expectations.
Analysts say the AAU issue has the potential to have an indirect impact as any EU language insisting on a restriction could encourage those holding a glut to sell them in haste.
(Additional reporting by Ben Garside; Editing by Rex Merrifield and Jane Baird)