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LONDON (Reuters) - U.N. climate talks in South Africa next month must make meaningful progress or governments "risk permanent damage to their credibility," a group of global businesses warned on Thursday.

At the November 28-December 9 summit in Durban, governments should try to adopt measures to ensure poor nations will have $100 billion in annual climate aid by 2020 and to pave the way for low-carbon investments, said a communique from over 175 companies including Tesco and Nedbank Group.

Major emitting nations must also cut their carbon emissions deep enough to contain global warming, the statement said.

"If we do not act, climate change risks seriously undermining future global prosperity and inflicting significant social, economic and environmental costs on the world," the companies said.

"Without this agreement, business lacks the clarity and certainty needed to invest to its fullest potential."

The companies also encouraged countries to forge bilateral and multilateral agreements to form financing partnerships and to tackle particular problem areas such as deforestation and emissions from international shipping and aviation.

A similar statement was issued on Wednesday by a group of 285 investors managing assets worth more than $20 trillion, including Calpers, the biggest pension fund in the United States.

Tough policy action will stimulate private sector investment into cleaner technologies and create green jobs, they said.

At peripheral climate talks in Panama City earlier this month, however, many negotiators and veteran climate observers said it was unlikely that a binding deal would come from Durban.

Even so, investors and companies urged governments to adopt national policies to spur low-carbon investment now rather than waiting for a climate pact.

"The governments that act aggressively to enact strong, long-term climate and energy policy will reap the awards," said Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres, a coalition of investors and environmental groups, and director of the Investor Network on Climate Risk.

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which binds rich nations to an emissions cut of 5.2 percent from 1990 levels by end-2012, was meant only as a first step toward getting a global deal to curb warming.

Scientists have said carbon emissions need to fall by 80 to 95 percent by 2050 to contain global warming within the limit of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

"Time is running out to keep global warming under 2 degrees Celsius, and if they fail to act, governments risk permanent damage to their credibility," the companies' statement said.

(Reporting By Jeff Coelho, editing by Jane Baird)

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