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UN climate talks feel the heat of high expectations

Days after the landmark Paris Agreement enters into force, diplomats from 196 nations gathering in Marrakesh on Monday will face intense pressure to translate the climate pact’s planet-saving promise into action. It is a tall order, even if the UN talks are still riding the political momentum that carried the deal – decades in the making – across the ratification finish line in record time.

Greenhouse gas emissions pushing the planet into the red zone of dangerous warming continue to climb, putting new ambitious goals for capping rising temperatures potentially out of reach.

Discussions on how to disburse $100 billion a year to poor, climate-vulnerable nations remain contentious, even as a major report estimates that the level of annual investment needed over the next 15 years in developing nations is 20 to 30 times that amount.

And hanging over the whole proceedings is the shadow of climate denier Donald Trump, whose improbable run at the White House is gathering momentum in the campaign’s final days. “The US presidential election will loom large over the COP,” said Liz Gallagher, senior advisor at climate thinktank E3G, using the acronym for the annual Conference of the Parties climate meet.

A Trump victory, most analysts agree, could cripple the Paris deal, which he has said he would “cancel”. The victory of his rival Hillary Clinton – a vocal proponent of action on climate change – would surely trigger a huge relief on Day Two of the 12-day meet, allowing the 15,000 attendees to get on with business. 

After the dramatic breakthrough in Paris last December, diplomats and experts are keen to lower expectations a year later. “This is a catalytic COP, not a huge leap forward,” said Alden Meyer, a veteran climate analyst.
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