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At UN climate talks, members try not to ‘over-emphasize the importance of Donald Trump’

Almost 200 nations began work on Monday to turn promises for fighting climate change into action at a U.N. conference that played down threats to a 2015 global agreement if Republican Donald Trump wins the U.S. 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 U.S. election was not mentioned in speeches at the opening ceremonies. Trump doubts that climate change is caused by human-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.

Still, the upcoming election seemed to be on everyone’s mind at the start of the two-week conference in Marrakech, where even security guards at the sprawling conference centre were overheard discussing the potential implications for the world and efforts to fight climate change in particular.

CLIMATECHANGE-SUMMIT/

Moroccan Foreign Minister and COP22 President Salaheddine Mezouar, left, and French Minister for Environment Segolene Royal launch the opening of climate talks in Marrakech. UN members are working to turn the Paris Agreement promises into reality. (Youssef Boudlal/Reuters)

“Trump becoming president? I personally don’t have problem with it. But what does the guy want to do?” said Adjo Bokon, a delegate from the West African nation of Togo. “Is he conscious of what is going on with climate change?”

Gabriela Fischerova, a Slovak official representing the European Union, said the 28-nation bloc is “open to any result. We will continue our discussions with any administration that will be in place.”

‘It would be a shock’

Asked about the U.S. election, French climate ambassador Laurence Tubiana told reporters: “I think we should not over-emphasize the importance of Donald Trump.” 

“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.

Campaign 2016 Trump

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has vowed to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement if elected, but UN members say it wouldn’t be so easy. (Chris O’Meara/Associated Press)

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.

4 years to pull out of deal 

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 $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 U.S. President Barack Obama’s plans to cut greenhouse gases by 2025 would kill U.S. 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 U.S. 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.