Participants include China, the G77 emerging economies, the least developed countries (LDCs) and the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS).
“We have said maybe we could advance our efforts if we form a partnership with the EU, and leave the US alone,” a negotiator for the LDC bloc told EurActiv, referring to China and the other groups.
“There is a ‘Plan C’ where everyone says, ‘Let’s like-minded countries and parties come together and sign a treaty we can agree in the Durban Climate Change Conference, which will include the [world’s] majority,’” he added.
Another official told EurActiv that he had attended several such "inter-sessional" and bilateral meetings held on the margins of international conferences in Bangkok, Panama and other cities in the last year.
“It was ambitious, with subgroups, and people who know each other,” he said. “The meetings were at senior level, led by heads of delegations.”
But he cautioned that they still had “miles to go” before an agreement might be in sight.
Isaac Valero-Ladron, a spokesman for the EU's Climate Action Commissioner, Connie Hedegaard, said that “the EU is engaging with all partners to get an agreement on the roadmap to a legally binding global climate framework.”
A coalition deal would allow most countries in the world to move forward with pledges to cut carbon emissions, albeit without major emitting nations such as Russia, Canada, and Japan, which have said they would not sign up to it.
The US is seen as increasingly disengaged from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process, in an election year dominated by economic woes.
“As a European I would very much like to see some more American leadership here,” Hedegaard told EurActiv.
“I understand what the political situation in Washington is,” she said. “But if you want a leadership position in the world then you also have to deliver on this.”
In a sign of the growing tensions with the US, Jo Leinen, the chairman of the European Parliament’s environment committee, told a Brussels press conference on 10 November that US congressmen who recently banned American airlines from participating in the EU’s emissions trading scheme were “arrogant and ignorant” and risking a “trade war”.
Replying to a question from EurActiv, Leinen spoke favourably of a “strategic partnership” between the EU, China and emerging economies at the UN climate summit in Durban to persuade Washington that climate isolation was not in its interests. Lessons were learned from the 2009 climate summit in Copenhagen, he added.
“Copenhagen failed in my opinion because the EU was looking too much to get the US on board,” he said. “In the end, we didn’t, but we lost the G77 and China, so we got nothing.”
“That is a big lesson to be learned from Copenhagen,” he said. “The EU has to be much cleverer and mediate not only across the Atlantic but towards the Pacific as well.”
But many contentious issues still stand in the way.
Haggling is continuing over issues such as the nature of a $100-billion (€73.7-billion) Green Climate Fund to help poor countries mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change and, most contentiously, a successor deal to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.
Speaking on the sidelines of a meeting in Brussels on 9 November, Christiana Figueres, the UNFCCC’s executive secretary, told EurActiv that the EU had a crucial mediating role to play.
“We need to find middle ground solutions between the expectation that the G77 countries have of a second commitment period which is not going to be possible,” she said.
“The EU is in a very important position to show compromise and to craft a middle ground solution that will be acceptable to all sides.”
As well as having met its obligations under the first Kyoto Protocol, the EU also has political credit in the developing world for its insistence that the Durban summit agree a roadmap for a successor to Kyoto with a timeline for implementation by 2015.
Any further delay would likely doom efforts to contain global warming to a 2-degree trajectory, after which the effects could become catastrophic, according to the International Energy Agency.
Hedegaard told EurActiv that the EU supported an urgent protest statement by small island nations that postponing a new climate treaty would be “environmentally reckless and politically irresponsible.”
Rising sea levels triggered by this degree of warming could swallow several islands in the Pacific, experts say.
A motion calling for a second commitment period to the Kyoto Protocol to be agreed at the Durban summit is expected to be debated in the European Parliament on 15 November.