Old divisions between developed and developing countries in who should lead the fight against climate change should be laid aside, according to ministers from some of the world's poorest countries and European representatives meeting on Tuesday.
The vexed issue of which countries should bear the greatest responsibility for cutting greenhouse gas emissions has been a sticking point in international negotiations for two decades. Under the original settlement reached in 1992 at the Rio Earth summit, and formalised in the 1997 Kyoto protocol, some rapidly emerging economies such as China were left out of the roster of obligations to curb emissions.
However, China is now the world's biggest emitter and second biggest economy, prompting many nations to question whether the divisions that were relevant 20 years ago should still apply today.
Ministers from the world's least developed countries, small island states and a sprinkling of developed and larger developing nations gathered in Brussels for a two-day meeting ahead of global climate change talks in Bonn next week.
Connie Hedegaard, the European climate chief, who was hosting the meeting, said: "Countries have recognised that the old division between developed and developing countries – there are limits to how useful that is in the 21st century."
She said countries wanted "something more dynamic" in terms of determining the contributions to emissions reductions made by richer and poorer countries, than the current system, by which "every two decades countries decide on the categorisation".
Negotiations on a possible new global treaty that would succeed the Kyoto protocol are to resume again this November, after last year's talks concluded with a resolution to write a new agreement by 2015 that would come into force from 2020.
Interim discussions among the world's environment ministers will take place later this month in Bonn, Germany, at which some of the parameters for the next three years of talks will set out.
Hedegaard said: "We need to set out a work programme [for drawing up a global agreement] and how to get there."
In advance of last year's talks in Durban, South Africa, the EU forged an alliance among the world's least developed countries, small island states that will be worst affected by climate change, and a variety of developed and developing nations, to push for a new global agreement on emissions to be signed by 2015 and implemented by 2020.
However, China and India held out against such agreement until the last minutes of the Durban talks, and are understood to be wary of any attempt to move away from the rigid classification of many countries under the Kyoto protocol, under which developing countries are absolved from any legally binding obligation to address their greenhouse gas emissions.
The nations represented at the Brussels meeting were: Australia, Bangladesh, Barbados, Cape Verde, Chile, Colombia, Congo, DRC Congo, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Denmark, Ethiopia, France, Gambia, Germany, Grenada, Kenya, Marshall Islands, Mexico, Nepal, Nauru, Norway, Republic of Korea, Spain, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Switzerland, Qatar, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Trinidad and Tobago, United Arab Emirates and the UK, as well as the EU and the UN.