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The European Union executive is tempering its hopes of securing a legally binding climate deal in talks this year culminating in Cancun, Mexico, focusing instead on a 2011 summit in South Africa, a source said.

“The realistic approach is to aim for deliverables in the Bonn and Cancun meetings this year, and then to aim for a legally binding agreement in South Africa,” the European Commission source said on condition of anonymity.

“But we should not give up hope of it being done earlier,” the source added.

EU climate negotiators are struggling to find direction after Copenhagen talks in December ended in a weak accord.

Hopes of a strong global deal this year have faded since doubts emerged in January about the progress of climate legislation in the United States — the world’s number two emitter.

U.N. climate chief Yvo De Boer says it will be “very difficult” to agree a binding treaty in 2010.

European Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard is expected to lay out her hopes and strategy for climate talks next Tuesday, building on the Copenhagen Accord.

Europe’s international standing in climate talks is being harmed by its failure to fulfil aid pledges, a leaked EU document warns.

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