Ignoring Trump, UN talks seek to turn climate pledges into action

French Environment Minister Segolene Royal (right) and COP22 president Salaheddine Mezouar attend the opening session of the COP22 climate talks in Marrakesh on Nov 7, 2016.
French Environment Minister Segolene Royal (right) and COP22 president Salaheddine Mezouar attend the opening session of the COP22 climate talks in Marrakesh on Nov 7, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

MARRAKESH, Morocco (REUTERS) - Almost 200 nations began work on Monday (Nov 7) to turn promises for fighting climate change into action at a UN conference that played down threats to a 2015 global agreement if Republican Donald Trump wins the US presidency.

At the start of two-week talks in Morocco, many delegates wore badges with a smiling picture of the Earth to celebrate the entry into force of the Paris Agreement on Nov 4, which seeks to phase out greenhouse gas emissions this century.

The US election was not mentioned in speeches at the opening ceremonies.

Trump doubts that climate change is caused by man-made greenhouse gases, mainly from burning coal and oil, and wants to abandon the pact.

His Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, by contrast, is a strong supporter of the Paris accord.

"I think we should not over-emphasise the importance of Donald Trump," French climate ambassador Laurence Tubiana told reporters, when asked about the US vote.

"It would be a shock" if Trump were elected, she said. "But if it happened, on Wednesday morning you would see everyone say'We stick to the Paris Agreement'," she said.

On Monday, delegates called for action to implement the Paris Agreement, which has been ratified by countries as diverse as China, Saudi Arabia and Pacific island states, as part of efforts to limit heat waves, droughts, floods and rising seas.

Moroccan Foreign Minister Salaheddine Mezouar said there had been "unrivalled progress" on climate change this year.

"Now we must build on this dynamic," he told delegates. Average global temperatures are set to hit new highs in 2016, surpassing a 2015 record.

The talks will try to find ways to step up curbs on greenhouse gases, help African nations cope with global warming and raise climate finance for developing nations to a goal of US$100 billion a year by 2020.

All countries have promised curbs on fossil fuel emissions and Marrakesh is due to start writing a "rule book", a process likely to take two years, to lay out how they will monitor and report their greenhouse gas emissions.

Trump says President Barack Obama's plans to cut greenhouse gases by 2025 would kill US jobs and make the United States dependent on oil imports from the Middle East.

Asked about Trump at a news conference, French Environment Minister Segolene Royal said she did not want to interfere in the US election but conceded she had previously expressed hope that "this great country will turn to a woman as president".

She also noted that the Paris Agreement lays out four years of formalities before any country can withdraw.

The European Union said it would push ahead with the Paris Agreement. "Our legislation is in force regardless," said Gabriela Fischerova, head of the EU delegation.