Climate Activists Vow to Demonstrate During Paris Talks

In the wake of terrorist attacks that rattled Paris, United Nations climate talks will proceed, and groups are pressing for protests to go on as well.

The French are contemplating how to handle public gatherings during UN climate talks
As France mourns its terror attack victims, it has to figure out how to handle public gatherings during the UN climate talks. Credit: Reuters

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Climate change talks will proceed as scheduled in Paris following terrorist attacks that killed 129 people and injured 350 last Friday. The fate of dozens of marches, civil disobedience actions, concerts and art events organized to coincide with the United Nations meeting at the end of this month, however, remain up in the air.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls told the French radio station RTL that no foreign leaders had asked to postpone the UN talks, but that all peripheral events, such as rallies, would be canceled out of safety concerns. But after an emergency meeting held Monday evening, leaders of several activist groups vowed to keep pushing French officials to allow the demonstrations, while also encouraging people to join one of the many solidarity events happening across the globe.

“We fully share [French authorities] concerns about public safety—just as we fully oppose any unnecessary crackdowns on civil liberties and minority populations,” Nicolas Haeringer, France campaigner for, said in a statement. “We can think of few better responses to violence and terror than this movement’s push for peace and hope.”

Members of the Coalition Climat 21, a French-based collection of 130 groups helping to organize the climate rallies, said that while they mourn the victims of the attacks in Beirut and Paris last week, they “believe COP21 can not take place without the participation or without the mobilizations of civil society in France.”

“We will implement all our efforts to hold all the mobilizations currently planned,” the groups said in a statement. “In consultation with the authorities, we will continue to ensure the security of all participants is guaranteed.”

Representatives for the Sierra Club and Greenpeace said their organizations were still discussing options and weren’t ready to make a public statement yet. Jake Thompson, a spokesperson for the Natural Resources Defence Council, said the group will “defer to government officials, conference organizers and safety officials to address all questions related to the impact on the conference.”

The attacks on a busy restaurant plaza, concert hall and sports arena rocked Paris and French President François Hollande responded by calling it “an act of war” by ISIS. France instituted border restrictions and retaliated over the weekend with a series of bomb strikes on Islamic State strongholds in Syria, done in conjunction with the United States.

A climate march through the streets of Paris is—perhaps now, tentatively—scheduled for Nov. 29, the eve of the COP21 summit. Organizers had hoped 200,000 people would show up. Thousands of protesters were also set to converge on the Le Bourget summit site in a mass mobilization on Dec. 12, the last day of the summit, carrying inflatable red lines to block streets.

Environmental, social justice and religious groups have also organized two weeks of non-violent acts of civil disobedience, an event they’ve dubbed the Climate Games. Participants can sign up online to engage in protests, street art, attention-grabbing actions and online hacks in both Paris and worldwide.

U.S. officials confirmed over the weekend that President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry will participate in the climate negotiations as planned. In total, about 118 world leaders and 20,000 to 40,000 delegates are expected to attend the UN meeting. French authorities announced they will beef up security around the summit, which will take place on the outskirts of Paris.

“We cannot acquiesce to brutality,” Jeffrey Waheed, deputy permanent representative of the Maldives to the United Nations, told ClimateWire. “It is important that terror attacks don’t dissuade us from what’s most important to the international community.”