COP21 protest banners censored by UN

Uncensored banners. Photos of the California Governor were forbidden by the UN. [International Center for Biodiversity]

EXCLUSIVE/ Civil society organisations must submit their banners for United Nations approval before being given permission to protest at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris (COP21).

Environmental charities, campaigners or trade unions are effectively censored from mentioning specific countries or individuals at the talks to cap global warming, which were today (11 December) extended into Saturday.

“I have never felt more like I was in a Kafka novel than I did in the days I spent trying to get approval for a demonstration,” said Kassie Siegel, director at the US Centre for Biological Diversity.

“I think it is a bit of a scandal. This has really hampered us bringing out our climate justice message at the COP21,” said David Heller, in charge of action liaison for Friends of the Earth International.

Siegel’s organisation was forbidden from using banners featuring California Governor Jerry Brown, who attended the COP21.

Brown is seen as a climate champion but has drawn criticism for allowing offshore fracking. Campaigners were forced to mask their posters, after only getting conditional approval at 11pm the night before the demo (8 December).

The ban meant that pressure could not be leveraged on the countries most responsible for pollution or for watering down the content of the eventual international agreement to cap global warming, Heller said. He added the UN Framework for Climate Change (UNFCC) had not provided detailed written rules or guidelines for what is and isn’t acceptable.

EURACTIV yesterday (10 December) contacted the UNFCC to ask for any guidelines and for a comment. No response has yet been forthcoming. The story will be updated if one is received.

Siegel had seen guidelines but described the process to get them as torturous. As well as photos of public officials, caricatures were also banned, she said.

After one protest, which involved the chant “USA do your share”, Heller was approached by UNFCC staff, who warned him that was unacceptable.

A separate Friends of the Earth demonstration in solidarity with victims of climate change was prevented from mentioning Indonesia, which has been ravaged by forest fires.

Officials argue that naming and shaming individual countries or leaders could derail the delicate talks between almost 200 countries, Heller said. They could use the protests as an excuse to pull out of talks.

Permission slips

UNFCC organisers require groups to submit authorisation forms before they grant security clearance to demonstrate.

The section for banners is simply headed “texts, if any”.  NGOs must also give details of any equipment or props, with a photo, the number of participants, and expected noise levels.

EURACTIV has obtained emails that give a sense of the restrictions placed on NGOs. They also suggest that the French authorities are involved in the approval process.

France has banned demonstrations across Paris during the COP21, as part of a state of emergency after the terror attacks in the French capital in November. They left 130 dead.

>>Read: Naomi Klein: France took advantage of Paris terror attacks during COP21

Approval for the “Climate Leaders Don’t Frack” demonstration was given on the following conditions;

  • There should be no more than 50 participants taking part in the action;
  • The banners should not include photos of any public official;
  • The banners should be smaller in size;
  • The action should stay in one place and not move around.

The email was sent at 11pm, the day before the protest was scheduled to take place. EURACTIV understands that timeframe is not unusual.The demonstrators were forced to mask photos of Governor Brown.

Despite the ban, there has been one unauthorised sit-in protest at the COP21. It took place after the release of one of draft versions of the international climate agreement and passed off peacefully.

>>Read: US demands 1.5 degree warming limit in COP21 deal

Tomorrow (12 December), demonstrators will gather at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris to defy the state of emergency ban on marches. The last such march in contravention of the ban ended in violent clashes with police.

>>Read: France won’t offset COP21’s carbon footprint

Negotiations on climate change began in 1992, and the UN organises an annual international climate change conference called the Conference of the Parties, or COP.

Paris is hosting the all-important 21st conference in December 2015. The participating states must reach an agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol, the object of which was to reduce CO2 emissions between 2008 and 2012.

  • 12 December: Protest march at Arc de Triomphe


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