France’s national emergency threatens to smother climate activism

Protesters on Germany demand climate action. [mw238/Flickr]

The arrival of 147 heads of state in Paris on Sunday will take place under a draconian security regime. With many NGO demonstrations cancelled, some plan to turn to civil disobedience to make their voices heard. EURACTIV France reports

As the COP21 looms ever closer, NGOs have to negotiate ever stricter security rules to ensure their points of view will be taken into account at the climate conference. In the current security climate, this is far from simple.

“Of course exceptional security measures have been enforced, and we have no problem accepting this. But we have the feeling that the demonstrations that have been authorised or denied have been filtered politically,” Jean-François Julliard, the president of Greenpeace France, said at an NGO conference on Wednesday (25 November).

A prime example is the opposition to the demonstration against the proposed Notre Dame des Landes airport. A group of some 200 cyclists left the city of Nantes, in North West France, last weekend, aiming to arrive in the department of Eure-et-Loir on Thursday (26 November). But they were notified en route of a ban on public demonstrations on the area’s public roads.

On Sunday, the police blocked the demonstrators’ route for two hours. “They authorised a Christmas market, but banned a peaceful demonstration against a useless airport,” said Malika Peyrault from Friends of the Earth.

Alternative demonstrations

The few demonstrations that have not been affected have had to take on unusual forms, as the Parisian authorities, as well as many other French local authorities, have enforced a ban on demonstrating. Instead, demonstrators will form a human chain between the Bastille and the Place de la Nation in Paris, along the route originally planned for the march.

NGOs are also calling for participants to assemble on the cafe terraces along the route in question. Many organisers have encouraged Parisians to “brave the state of emergency”.

“Yes, there is a state of emergency, but there is also a climate emergency,” said Alix Mazounie, from the Climate Action Network.

The March4me initiative, which offers French citizens the chance to delegate their climate demonstration to a “marcher” outside France, began to take off on Wednesday (25 November). Around 60 demonstrations are planned around the world this Saturday (29 November).

Motorways closed for 147 heads of state

France’s Minister of the Interior, Bernard Cazeneuve, said, “In the context of the very high threat that our country is facing, the success of the COP21 also depends on the optimal securitisation of this demonstration.”

2,800 police officers and gendarmes will be deployed to protect the site of le Bourget, which will host the 40,000 participants of the climate conference. This is almost double the 1,500 police officers, gendarmes and fire fighters that had originally been assigned to the event.

These will be joined by 106 United Nations guards and 292 private security agents. Several motorways, roads and avenues in the Paris region will be closed to ensure the security of the 147 heads of state that will be present.

But the Parisian public transport network will be free of charge on Sunday and Monday (29 and 30 November).

Negotiation concerns

NGOs are also concerned about whether their very place at the negotiation table is assured. They had already been excluded from the negotiations in Bonn, in October this year. This time, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Laurent Fabius, promised they would be able to participate at the start and the end of the negotiation process.

“But the middle of the negotiations is precisely when we can have the biggest impact,” the Climate Action Network stated.

NGOs are still worried about where the Paris agreements will lead. “The Bonn text is not based in reality. We do not even know what timescale we are talking about: are the commitments made for 2050? 2100? As soon as possible? Many elements that would make this a solid document are lacking,” said Julliard.

For Romain Benicchio, from Oxfam, the main source of concern is how the commitments will be financed; a question that continues to go unanswered. “The need for adaptation will be 50% higher if the climate heats up by 3°C. If this happens, the cost of adaptation could reach $800 billion in 2050!”

François Hollande confident

In an interview with l’Express on Thursday (26 November), France’s President François Hollande stressed the important role finance would play in finalising an agreement.

“The emerging countries – India, Brazil, China, South Africa… – do not want the fight against climate change to damage their economies,” he said. The French president added that it was on precisely these questions of economic development “that the main risk of blockage would occur”.

He also highlighted that industrialised countries were “not far from the objective” of providing $100 billion per year to the fund for fighting climate change in the global South. 

United Nations conference on climate change

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted during the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit in 1992. This Framework Convention is a universal convention of principle, acknowledging the existence of anthropogenic (human-induced) climate change and giving industrialized countries the major part of responsibility for combating it.

The adoption of the Kyoto Protocol at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992 was a milestone in the international negotiations on tackling climate change.

For the first time, binding greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets were set for industrialised countries. The protocol, which entered into force in 2005, was intended to cover the period 2008-2012.

A longer-term vision was introduced by the Bali Action Plan in 2007, which set timelines for the negotiations towards reaching a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol, due to expire in 2012. It was expected that an agreement would be reached by December 2009.

Although Copenhagen, Denmark, did not result in the adoption of a new agreement, COP15/CMP5 recognised the common objective of keeping the increase in global temperature below 2°C. Furthermore, industrialised countries undertook to raise $100 billion per year by 2020 to assist developing countries in climate-change adaptation and mitigation. Cancún, Mexico, in 2010 made the 2°C target more tangible by establishing dedicated institutions on key points, such as the Green Climate Fund.

The willingness to act together was reflected in the establishment, in 2011, of the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP), whose mandate is to bring all countries, both developed and developing, to the table to develop “a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force” applicable to all the States Parties to the UNFCCC. This agreement should be adopted in 2015 and implemented from 2020.

In the interval until a legally binding multilateral agreement is implemented in 2020, the Doha Conference (Qatar) in 2012 established a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (2013-2020), which was ratified by a number of industrialised countries, and terminated the Bali track.

The Climate Change Conferences in Warsaw, Poland, in 2013 and Lima , Peru, in 2014 enabled essential progress towards COP21 in Paris in 2015. All the states were invited to submit their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions ahead of COP21.


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