UN climate change summit winds down amid fears of US withdrawal from Paris Agreement under Trump

COP22 president Salaheddine Mezouar (center), executive secretary Patricia Espinosa (left), and secretary attend a press conference at the COP22 climate conference on Nov 17, 2016, in Marrakesh.
COP22 president Salaheddine Mezouar (center), executive secretary Patricia Espinosa (left), and secretary attend a press conference at the COP22 climate conference on Nov 17, 2016, in Marrakesh. PHOTO: AFP

MARRAKESH, Morocco (AFP) - A UN climate summit in Marrakesh tasked with implementing the hard-won Paris Agreement moved toward its scheduled close on Friday (Nov 18), dogged by US president-elect Donald Trump's promise to abandon the landmark pact.

The 196-nation forum was stunned to see an avowed climate change-denier capture the White House, and has been left to ponder the impact that could have on their collective effort to beat back the threat of global warming.

On Thursday (Nov 17), the conference sought to shore up their commitment with a rare united appeal.

"Our climate is warming at an alarming and unprecedented rate and we have an urgent duty to respond," the 196 nations, including the outgoing US administration, said in the "Marrakesh Action Proclamation".

"We call for the highest political commitment to combat climate change, as a matter of urgent priority."

Many fear that Mr Trump - who has described climate change as a "hoax" perpetrated by China - will act on his threat to withdraw from the Paris accord or its framework convention, which could roll back years of painstakingly negotiated political goodwill.

It would also deprive poor countries of billions of dollars in promised finance aid, to help them shift to clean energy and shore up defences against climate change impacts that can no longer be avoided.

"We have to work on facilitating access to finance," Moroccan Foreign Minister Salaheddine Mezouar, who has taken over stewardship of the UN talks from France, said on Friday.

"There's no doubt that if Mr Trump makes sharp cuts to the federal government support of developing countries, that will be noticed and have an impact," veteran climate negotiations analyst Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists said.

The Paris pact sets the goal of limiting average global warming to 2 degrees Celsius over pre-Industrial Revolution levels.

That can only be achieved by rapidly slashing greenhouse gas emissions generated by the burning of fossil fuels, scientists say.

Countries - including the United States - have pledged to do so under the deal by shifting to renewable energy sources.

But Mr Trump has vowed to boost oil and gas production, and to revive the sagging US coal industry, battered mainly by the rise of natural gas from fracking.

Experts say global warming over 2 deg C will result in land-gobbling sea level rise, worsening storms and droughts, disease spread and conflict over ever-scarcer resources.

Highlighting the stakes, US government scientists said on Thursday that the first 10 months of the year were the hottest in modern times - and 2016 will likely surpass 2015 as the warmest year on record.

On current trends, the world is headed for warming of 3 deg C or more, a recipe for human misery on a global scale, they warn.

Without the US, delegates and analysts say, the goal will be even harder to reach.

"The chances of the rest of the world contributing the emissions reductions commitments that the US is required to undertake, or covering the shortfall in climate finance that the US is required to contribute, is unlikely to happen," said Mr Mohamed Adow of Christian Aid, which monitors the climate negotiations on behalf of poor countries. "That is scary."

While waiting for the incoming US president to make his climate position clear, many now look to the rest of the world to bolster the Paris Agreement.

The BASIC group of Brazil, South Africa, India and China, stressed they would "continue and strengthen" their own actions, while stressing "there can be no backtracking on commitments from developed countries and no attempt to renegotiate the terms of the agreement reached in Paris".

Mr Mezouar announced on Friday that the next high-level climate meet would take place at the end of next year in Bonn, Germany, but be presided by Fiji.

"It is the first time that a small island state, and one from the Pacific, will organise a COP," he told journalists.