Paris unites on global day of climate action

UPDATED: Violence and 100 arrests disrupt peaceful ‘human chain’ in centre of Paris after anarchists infiltrate climate march

Hundreds of pairs of shoes at Place de Republique represent those people who would have marched for a climate deal before the demonstrated was cancelled (Pic: Ed King)

Thousands of pairs of shoes at Place de Republique represent those people who would have marched for a climate deal before the demonstrated was cancelled (Pic: Ed King)

By Ed King in Paris

Young and old, black and white, developed and developing. Over 3000 people from around the world linked arms in Paris on Sunday in a show of global unity ahead of UN climate talks that officially open here on Monday.

A human chain stretched from Place de la Republique, the centre for memorials to the 13 November Paris terror attacks, to the Bataclan theatre where over 80 people lost their lives.

Flowers, candles, flags, pictures of the dead and teddy bears cover both sites, still heavily protected by police and still a place of peace where Parisians and tourists alike read the messages and quietly contemplate the events of that night.

For campaigners the human chain was a chance to pay respect to those who died, and also to point to a future they say needs to be free from planet-warming fossil fuels.

“I think there is a general understanding of the escalated urgency with everything that happened here, and the need to address a climate issue that feeds into the overall instability that the world is seeing,” said Hoda Baraka from the 350 campaign group.

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Metres from the statue of Marianne in la Republique, 20,000 empty shoes stood in lines, a symbolic protest from activists after the planned Paris climate march was cancelled due to the ongoing security threat.

Pope Francis and Ban Ki-moon were among those to have donated footwear – Ban sent running trainers, the Pontiff some black leather shoes. Some carried personal messages to the 140-odd world leaders who arrive in Paris today and tomorrow, others were stuffed with plants and flowers.

“This is really a signal of Parisians to be heard on climate. Each pair represents a citizen who took a pair of shoes out of their closet and brought them here… it’s a monument to silenced voices and that hope for action,” said Emma Ruby-Sachs, acting executive director of Avaaz.

The positive mood deteriorated late on Sunday. Reports suggest 200 anarchists and anti-capitalists bent on violence infiltrated the march, attacking police who responded with tear gas.

An estimated 100 protestors were arrested, others were ‘kettled’ by police in a corner of the square. Some anarchists threw candles left at la Republique in memorial for the 13/11 victims, according to the Guardian.

Campaign group 350 said those responsible for wrecking the demonstration was a “violation of the nonviolent pledge that every group involved in the climate coalition here in France has agreed to.”

Earlier in the day, under sullen November skies, a small group of indigenous people from Pacific Islands and North America gathered opposite the Bataclan to pray and conduct a quiet healing ceremony, aimed at demonstrating their solidarity with Paris.

Sunday’s events in Paris were a microcosm of a wider climate campaign across the weekend, which saw hundreds of thousands take to the streets in Sydney, Seattle, Hong Kong, Delhi, London, New York and Sao Paulo.

On Saturday religious leaders from the Philippines, US, Kenya and Bangladesh presented an emotional Christiana Figueres, the UN’s top climate official, with a petition from nearly 1.8 million people calling for an ambitious climate pact.

Former Philippines climate envoy Yeb Sano, who walked 1,500 kilometres from Rome to make the Paris summit, said the global show of support should encourage governments to come to agreement – scheduled for 11 December.

“Irrespective of what our leaders produce from Paris, across the globe we are working as communities and cities, as faith groups and organisations, and as pilgrims, walking together out of love, faith and hope that we can build a better future together,” he said.

Cardinal Cláudio Hummes, Archbishop Emeritus of Sao Paulo, said: “I pray for political leaders to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor and respond to the climate justice demand from all faiths.”

Negotiations between nearly 200 countries on a proposed deal to address global warming kick off at 5pm on Sunday, before the arrival of world leaders on Monday.

In a Saturday press briefing the UN’s Figueres said the submission of 183 out of a possible 195 national climate plans gave her hope that a agreement on a “legally binding instrument” was within reach.

“This is the first time so many countries have done their own analysis at home to figure and quantify how they can contribute… this is already the first very concrete success of COP21,” she said.

Nearly 11,000 companies, cities and regions have also sent commitments to the UN. Countries yet to submit plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions include North Korea, Libya, Syria, Venezuela.

“There is a strong moral and economic imperative to act now on climate change… and the next two weeks will show there is a strong political imperative,” added Figueres.

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