After past failures, almost 200 countries agreed in 2011 to work out by the end of 2015 a UN pact to slow global warming with curbs taking effect from 2020. They have still to figure out what each nation will do.
Preparing for a climate meeting of government delegates next week in Bonn, the EU said all countries should sketch out national commitments for limiting rising world greenhouse gases beyond 2020 by the end of 2014.
Deciding on commitments next year should allow time for a review of each national plan before the 2015 agreement, it said.
National plans should be easily comparable so that they could be toughened if needed after a review, the EU said in an official submission to the United Nations.
The EU approach is more demanding than a U.S. proposal last month that said each nation should merely offer a "contribution" to the 2015 deal, perhaps by mid-2015, to allow a non-binding review lasting a few months.
Washington says that governments are more likely to act if they can define greenhouse gas programmes themselves, rather than be told what to do by outside reviewers. EU officials fear that such national policies will undermine ambition.
The idea of each government setting its own goals means abandoning the format of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which set central goals for industrialised countries to cut emissions by 2012 and then let each work out how to implement them.
Unlike its main industrialised allies, the United States stayed out of Kyoto and has not set caps on emissions. Economic slowdown has made many governments reluctant to take strong action to shift from fossil fuels towards renewable energies.
All sides say emissions pledges should achieve a UN goal of limiting a rise in temperatures to below 2º Celsius above pre-industrial times, seen as a threshold for dangerous changes with more floods, droughts and rising seas.
Temperatures have already risen by 0.8°C since the Industrial Revolution. All the 10 warmest years since records began have been since 1998, even though the rate of warming at the planet's surface has slowed this century.
"We support the EU's call for countries to come up with commitments as early as possible," said Samantha Smith, of the WWF conservation group. She said the US plan was a recipe for a weak deal that failed to keep temperature rises below 2°C.
China and India say rich countries should lead the way in making deep cuts in emissions beyond 2020 while giving emerging nations time to burn fossil fuels to promote economic growth.
The European Commission has suggested a 40% cut in EU greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels and a goal that renewable energy will supply 30% of all energy needs, both by 2030.