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Global agreements in areas such as cement or steel could offer a solution if the UN negotiation process fails to deliver a binding climate treaty, said Jo Leinen, chairman of the European Parliament’s influential environment committee.

Speaking in Brussels yesterday (3 March), Leinen conceded that Europe might need a Plan B for international climate change talks, considering the difficulties in reaching an agreement under the UN process, which requires unanimity.

He pointed to the array of different views on the ‘Copenhagen Accord’ agreed in December, which was celebrated as a step forward by the US, China and India but regarded as a disappointment by Europe.

Leinen suggested that an alternative approach could be to go for sectoral agreements where only the countries active in a given field with implications for global warming would agree carbon-cutting measures.

“Why not have a deal between car-manufacturing countries on zero-emission cars?” he said. “Or you could have a deal that by 2020 degradation of forests should be stopped.”

Another example could be to seek a deal on decarbonising electricity production, the MEP said. But he admitted that this would be more difficult considering the large number of countries involved.

He said that the EU still favours an agreement in the UN framework as this is the only type of deal that can produce a binding convention. But he added that if the UN process was not working, then plurilateral agreements would be another option.

‘Plurilateral agreements’ in WTO-speak mean that member countries can agree new rules on a voluntary basis without involving the entire membership.

Leinen pointed out that the Copenhagen Accord in a way already represents such a plurilateral agreement. But the beauty of taking a sectoral approach lies in the fact that they deliver results quicker as they can be worked out between fewer countries, he added.

But the MEP was not ready to give up on a global climate agreement just yet. He criticised the EU’s new Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard for her public statements that the Cancun UN climate conference at the end of the year would not yield a binding outcome.

Leinen said this was falling to another extreme after Europe’s overambitious expectations for the Copenhagen negotiations last December.

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