Sunday, 13 December 2015

(Attempting to) Protest at COP21

If you didn't live in Paris, I suspect it would have been surprisingly easy to miss, or at least only be mildly aware of, the fact that COP21, the massive international climate conference, has been taking place in the city over the past few weeks. Even for Parisians, the main sign that something important was happening was significant transport disruption as several major roads into the city were closed as heads of state arrived at the beginning of the conference.

Since then, depending on your preferred media outlets, you might have seen quite a lot of information, or very little. The Guardian has fairly detailed coverage, as does Le Monde, although the French news has obviously also been focusing a lot on the regional elections this weekend and last.

The aim of COP21 was to produce an agreement that would limit global warming to 2°C by 2100 in comparison with pre-industrial times. Since the final agreement was published yesterday afternoon, politicians have been proudly declaring the conference a great success, but many environmentalists doubt that it will be enough. The main reasons for this are
a) the steps that countries have agreed to take will probably not keep warming below 2°C
b) the agreements are not legally binding
c) climate agreements can be overridden by trade agreements, such as the TTIP, which will potentially allow companies to sue governments if they lose money as a result of steps which the government has taken to protect the environment.

Another somewhat controversial aspect of COP21 was that large protests were banned due to the state of emergency following the 13th November terror attacks. This led to demonstrators coming up with some unusual solutions, such as leaving 12000 shoes on the Place de la République to represent the people who would have been protesting had protests been allowed.

I had been following the conference in the news, but hadn't been involved in any way myself until yesterday. Some good friends were staying with us to take part in the public events around the conference, so on Saturday morning I joined them to participate in the Climate Justice Peace event. As large gatherings were forbidden, the idea was for small groups of people to be present at predefined spots in the city, take photos, send tweets and geolocalise, creating a map that would spell out the letters of Climate Justice Peace.

We decided to be part of the group that would make up the C in justice, which was coordinated by Les Amis de la Terre (Friends of the Earth). We gathered on the Place des Vosges and were given maps showing the spots where our group of 6 was supposed to geolocate between 11 and 11:30. (Unlike your typical French protest, this one was very calm and supervised only by a couple of bored looking policemen who I don't think intervened in any way at all.)

Sadly, when the moment arrived  to pinpoint ourselves on the map of Paris, the organisation's website was overwhelmed, and most people's geolocations didn't seem to get through, so we had to resort to a few posts on Twitter after the event.

I had to go home after that, but my friends continued to the Red Lines event on the Avenue de la Grande Armée, where people with red clothes and banners created lines down the road to represent lines which must not be crossed. This was a much larger event which in the end was allowed to go ahead by the police despite earlier suggestions that it might not. The final gathering of the day took place on the Champ de Mars, where peaceful activists surrounded by police, in the tradition of '68, tossed paving stones into the air.

The difference at COP21 in 2015 was that the paving stones were giant inflatable ones.


  1. Sous les pavées, la plage...

    As a French, I feel strangely happy about the fact you feel comfortable enough over there to protest like a true French, no matter how successful the event was. Bon travail!

    1. Thanks, Zhu. I am definitely feeling very integrated at the moment :-)