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Financial Crisis, EU Rift Loom Over UN Climate Talks

POZNAN (Reuters) -- Worries about the costs of combating climate change and rifts between European Union states are likely to strain 185-country talks in Poland from December 1 on a new UN treaty to fight global warming.

The election of Barack Obama as U.S. president may, however, help the mood at the nearly two-week meeting of 9,000 delegates in the industrial city of Poznan, since he has promised more action to slow warming than President George W. Bush.

Yvo de Boer, head of the UN Climate Change Secretariat, urged negotiators to stick to a timetable meant to end with a new UN climate treaty in Copenhagen at the end of 2009 and not be distracted by the worst financial crisis in 80 years.

"We must now focus on the opportunities for green growth that can put the global economy onto a stable and sustainable path," de Boer said in a statement. Poznan will review progress halfway through a two-year push for a new treaty.

But economic slowdown has exposed doubts in Europe about costs of an EU goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions, mainly from fossil fuels, by 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.

Poland, which gets 93 percent of its electricity from coal, and Italy, worried about its industrial competitiveness, are leading a drive for concessions in a package meant to be agreed at a December 11-12 summit of EU leaders in Brussels.

Connie Hedegaard, Denmark's climate minister who is set to host next year's talks on a new pact, expressed hopes for an EU deal. "We will obtain nothing by postponing the deadline," she said in Copenhagen.

EU states have been among the most enthusiastic backers of the existing Kyoto Protocol. Developing countries such as China and India say the rich have to prove leadership before the poor start acting to slow emissions.

The Poznan meeting will also look at details of a new climate treaty, based on an 84-page compilation of ideas on ways to slow rising temperatures that could bring more droughts, disease, floods, and rising seas.

Poland's Prime Minister Donald Tusk and Denmark's Anders Fogh Rasmussen will attend Monday's opening. About 150 environment ministers will attend the final days of the talks.

Obama aims to return U.S. emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 after a rise of about 14 percent since 1990. He would then seek to cut them by 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.