By Elke Weesjes
France has cancelled two citizen demonstrations and several other events set to coincide with the United Nations Climate Summit (COP21) in Paris due to security concerns following recent terrorist attacks across the city that left 129 dead.
The UN climate conference, scheduled for November 30, is slated to go forward with heightened security, even though the country has declared an official state of emergency. Other climate gatherings in spaces that are “enclosed and easily secured” will also continue as planned, according to a statement by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius quoted by The Guardian.
During talks with climate campaigners, Fabius expressed fears there could be another terrorist attack. He also cited the possibility of mass panic, such as the incident in the Place de Republique on November 15 when firecrackers caused hundreds to flee from a solidarity vigil.
"In order to avoid additional risks, the government has decided not to authorize climate marches planned in public places in Paris and other French cities on Nov. 29 and Dec. 12," said Fabius, who will preside over the summit, in a statement quoted by Reuters.
Environmental leaders expected about 200,000 people would turn out for the two climate marches. Organizers—including Greenpeace, 350.org, Coalition Climat 21, and Avaaz—had hoped to recreate the turnout of the People’s Climate March in New York City last year, which drew 300,000 people.
Organizers, though disappointed, were overall understanding of the decision.
“The French authorities say they cannot guarantee safety at the march, and so it will not happen,” Jean François Julliard, executive director of Greenpeace France, said in a statement. “This is a source of huge regret, but we must respect the decision. Huge numbers were expected in Paris, but those people will not be silenced.”
The other co-organizers of the events, Avaaz, 350.org, and Coalition Climat 21, issued similar statements urging people to join the thousands of other events worldwide that have been planned as part of a Global Climate March.
The acceptance of the government’s ban is an about-face from organizers’ previous stance, in which they stated would go ahead with the protests in the name of civil liberty.
Although it has banned large outdoor public gatherings for the next three months, the French government has said it will not give in to terrorism and insists the long-anticipated climate summit will go ahead. Other world leaders have said the same.
“Let me appeal to all world leaders that we meet in Paris for the COP21 Climate Conference,” European Union President Donald Tusk said in a statement. “We must demonstrate that the world is united in our fight against climate change but also show solidarity against terrorism. Our presence should be a sign that the world is not intimidated. Here I call on all world leaders with no exception.”
Delegates from more than 190 countries are expected to attend the summit where they will work on an agreement to set a global framework to combat climate change, including limits on fossil fuel emissions. Heads of state and government from all over the world have accepted invitations to attend the conference.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said that no world leader had requested postponement of the summit, an event he called “crucial to the planet’s future.”
In fact, the response was quite the opposite, according to Fabius, who quoted some leaders as saying, “We not only planned to come, but now we have to come, because we have to show to the terrorists that we are not afraid of them.”
That sort of oppositional response to the terrorist attacks might bode well for COP21. Already, the 137 heads of state that have committed to coming overwhelms the number who attended the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit. There’s also an indication that the attacks might highlight the role of climate change in national security, a focus that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has said is needed.
There is a chance that the solidarity and large-scale commitment by world leaders inspired by the attacks will provide some balance for climate activists’ inability to demonstrate in the way they had planned. If so, it might well be the silver lining to a black cloud of terror.