PARIS – Under the cloud of a terrorist attack, this city has rallied to welcome the world to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (#COP21). Despite the cancellation of two mass climate marches because of the emergency security measures, some 40,000 people are gathering here to participate in the multiple events, official and unofficial, happening from Nov. 30-Dec. 11.
In the opening of the UN meet, French foreign minister Laurent Fabius, Prince Charles and UN chief Ban-Ki Moon were among the speakers that tied terrorism and climate change as the two critical issues facing humanity.
In addition to the official talks, which is expected to result in a historic agreement, other voices will have their own platform from which to link other critical issues – deep poverty for one – to the necessity for taking action on mitigating the worst effects of climate change. Taking place alongside the official UN conference at which representatives of 195 nations are expected to hammer out and sign an agreement that would represent a significant first-step to voluntarily reduce carbon emissions, is a people’s climate conference where a global network of NGOs (non-governmental organizations), environmental and climate activists, trade unionists, scientists, local elected officials from every continent (except Antarctica) are meeting and discussing strategies for and experiences with climate action.
On the eve of the conference Nov. 30 opening, more than 600,000 global citizens took part in local climate marches in solidarity with the Paris conference and the cancelled marches. The French government’s decision did not go without protest from Parisians. Thousands of pairs of shoes representing the would-be marchers have been placed in the Place de la République, and 10,000 people formed a human chain “for peace and climate justice” Nov. 29 despite the government order. Pope Francis donated a pair of his shoes to the cause.
After the peaceful climate justice demonstration, a small group of protesters and police clashed, creating a media spectacle that bolstered the Hollande government to double down on its justification for the emergency security measures.
The overwhelming majority of grassroots initiatives during these two weeks are peaceful demonstrations for climate justice. They will take many forms and happen in venues across this City of Lights and its suburbs. On Dec. 5-6, in the working-class suburb of Montreuil, a gathering dubbed People’s Climate Summit will take place and include a Global Village of Alternatives where concrete alternative solutions, both local and international, for climate and social justice will be discussed and demonstrated.
On Nov. 29, the left-wing newspaper L’Humanite along with the French Communist Party (PCF) and an electoral alliance, Left Front (Front de Gauche), hosted a community gathering on climate change at public school, L’Ecole de la Parole Errante gymnasium/auditorium. An estimated 150 people showed up and listened to speakers who linked climate change to many pressing social and economic issues, including housing, poverty, access to clean water and food production.
“I was unaware that the [Left Front] had such deep knowledge on climate change,” said one audience member, Cristal, who spoke in English and gave only her first name. She said she generally votes for the Socialists or Greens and doesn’t “feel represented” by left parties, but after the forum she said she felt confident that the left alliance could “take charge” and do a good job on this issue.
She said she was impressed how the Left Front speakers joined poverty and inequality to climate change. “Of course, the link to capitalism and climate change was also underlined,” she said.
“It is very important to have these climate change discussions among the working class” and not just among middle class people, said regional council vice-president Henriette Zoughebi who is in charge of education on social-political issues for 469 high schools with about 400,000 students in the Paris region. Zoughebi said linking socio-economic problems with climate change is essential for educating and mobilizing students at the high schools in which she works.
On Dec. 6 and 13, French voters go to the polls in two rounds of voting to elect regional representatives. Bolstered by the Paris attacks and concerns of security, the right wing is expected to do well in the first round, according to polls. The far right party, National Front led by Marine Le Pen, could possibly win two regions with their anti-immigrant and Islamophobic platform.
“I fear the far-right parties are growing. They seem to gain each election,” she said. Christal said she was afraid to take the Metro after the attacks and rides her bicycle everywhere. “There is a real risk of bombing [the Metro],” she said.
In spite of her fear, Christal said she was “dissatisfied” with the recent decision to pass the emergency security law. “Three months are too much,” she said.
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Photo: Climate conference poster adorns the wall of the Victor Hugo Metro station, Paris. Teresa Albano/PW