WARSAW, Poland (AP) – Environment ministers agreed Tuesday that the world financial crisis must not halt efforts to combat global warming, the top United Nations climate official said.

Officials from the U.S., China, Canada, India, the European Union and more than 30 other countries met for two days of informal talks in Warsaw ahead of a climate conference in December.

“There was a very strong consensus that the current financial turmoil should not be an excuse to slow down action on climate change,” U.N. climate chief Yvo de Boer told The Associated Press after the talks.

“Many ministers said that addressing climate change can deliver important economic benefits that are important in the light of the current financial situation as well,” de Boer added.

Scientists say the emission of carbon and other greenhouse gases, mostly from fossil fuels, must peak within 10 to 15 years and then drop sharply to avoid potentially catastrophic changes in the climate.

The discussions in Warsaw were aimed at laying the groundwork for a major U.N. climate change conference in December in Poznan, Poland that will include delegates from more than 190 countries. The conference will work out the details of a climate change accord to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

The U.S. rejected the Kyoto accord, arguing it would harm American business and that it made no comparable demands on emerging economies. China, India and other large developing countries refused to accept a binding arrangement that they said would limit their development and their declared mission to ease poverty at home.

De Boer said a number of ministers at the Warsaw meeting pushed for industrialized nations to lead the way by setting specific targets for cutting emissions by 2020.

“That is the kind of clarity that the private sector also needs in terms of taking investment decisions in these difficult times,” he said.

A debate similar to the one in Poland is also under way in the EU before its two-day summit beginning Wednesday. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has urged EU leaders to keep their promise to cut greenhouse gas emissions, despite worries that the economic slowdown will make it harder for governments and businesses to shoulder the extra costs.

“Saving the planet does not disappear because of the financial crisis,” Barroso said in Belgium on Tuesday.

The 27-nation bloc’s year-old deal would reduce emissions by 20 percent by 2020. However, the package faces opposition from a number of members –including Poland – who fear it will curb economic growth.

Polish Environment Minister Maciej Nowicki called the plan “unacceptable” saying it was plagued by a “slew of shortcomings.” He did not provide specifics, but said the problems could still be weeded out in further negotiations.

Nevertheless, he said Poland, which is heavily dependent on coal for its energy needs, “does not fear” cutting emissions by 20 percent by 2020. “We could even go beyond that level of emission reductions,” Nowicki said.

A final deal to succeed the Kyoto Protocol is expected to be signed in Copenhagen at the end of 2009.

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