PARIS • For the first time since Mr Donald Trump's ascent to the White House, United Nations negotiators are gathering to draft rules to take forward the Paris Agreement he threatened to abandon.
The round of haggling, beginning in Bonn tomorrow, is meant to begin work on a crucial rule book for signatories of the pact.
But it risks being sidetracked by mounting uncertainty over the world's No. 2 carbon polluter, with Mr Trump at its helm.
The Maldives Environment and Energy Minister Thoriq Ibrahim said: "This was supposed to be a highly technical and uneventful meeting to flesh out some of the details in the Paris Agreement. But, obviously, the speculation coming out of Washington is now at the top of our minds."
He chairs the Alliance of Small Island States, a key negotiating bloc in the UN climate forum that will meet until May 18.
The Paris deal was sealed at the 21st Conference of Parties in the French capital in December 2015, after years of haggling.
A diplomatic push led by Mr Trump's predecessor Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping saw 195 countries and the European Union - 196 parties in total - agree to the deal. Palestine has since also joined the agreement.
It sets the goal of limiting average global warming to 2 deg C over pre-Industrial Revolution levels - and 1.5 deg C if possible. This will be done by curbing greenhouse gas emissions from burning oil, coal and gas - an objective to which countries have pledged voluntary, nationally determined "contributions".
Widely hailed as the last chance to stave off worst-case-scenario global warming, the Paris pact was criticised by Mr Trump during his presidential campaign; he also promised to "cancel" the deal as president.
Mr Trump has since said he will make his decision on the deal before the next Group of Seven meeting from May 26 to 27 in Sicily.
Washington-based World Resources Institute climate programme head Paula Caballero said: "The question of whether this creates a difficult backdrop for the negotiations is clearly a 'yes'."
A US State Department official confirmed that a US delegation will travel to Bonn, although it will be a "much smaller" one than in recent years.
Asked about the negotiators' brief, the official said: "We are focused on ensuring that decisions are not taken at these meetings that would prejudice our future policy, undermine the competitiveness of US businesses, or hamper our broader objective of advancing US economic growth and prosperity."
The Trump administration has already proposed slashing funds for the UN's climate convention, which hosts the negotiations, the UN climate science panel, and the Green Climate Fund that helps poor countries combat global warming.