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France's state of emergency is being used to quell peaceful climate change protest in Paris


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Whilst France is still under a state of emergency following the atrocities of November 13th, a wider emergency is something the world is facing with ever growing worry: Climate change. The two have now found themselves coinciding in Paris with the COP21 Global climate negotiations taking part just outside of the centre, in Le Bourget.

The state of emergency could not have come at a worse time for those wanting to show their support for a strong climate deal, which seeks to limit greenhouse gas emissions in addition to securing help, support and justice for the hundreds of millions around the globe facing devastating consequences at the hands of climate change.

France has completely banned any large protests or gathering of people during the COP21. The large demonstrations planned for the final day of the COP, known as #D12, have been severely scaled down and plans for the day of action are being kept underground and secret until just minutes before the action is set to take place, although there are a series of 'climate games' occuring around the city which have been organised by small groups and individuals.

Further, the climate-action-justice movement was expecting tens of thousands to show their support for a strong climate deal to be struck amongst world leaders in Le Bourget. However it seems that those estimations have been slashed to just a few thousand – if that.

Yesterday there was an activist demonstration by the Big Pyramid behind the Louvre. There were metal fences around the entrance with a very heavy police and army presence. Around 10 large police riot vans encircled the area, and when trying to get in, bags were very heavily checked. At one point, a civil-state police officer took out documents from my bag and read through them to see if I was a climate activist or not; apparently I passed the test.

The people in front of me in the queue, who were dressed in colourful clothing, piercings and with dreads, did not. They were told, in French, “We are not allowing in people like you, we have orders that there is a demonstration planned and we are not allowing in people like you”.

I was deeply disturbed and shocked by the level of fascism exhibited by the rather rough-handed police. It seems strange that the powers given by “state of emergency” to increase security - supposedly to protect climate activists from another terrorist attack - were being exercised to limit activist participation in a very peaceful demonstration.

Around an hour after planned, enough people were able to slip through the barrier checks to exhibit the black umbrellas with the title “Fossil-Free Culture”. Unfortunately, and rather comically, the police had confiscated the “free” part of the title. It seems ironic that in the city where “liberté” had been so fervently fought for, the police would now remove, and even attempt to censor, that very same word from the climate-action campaign.

After a short while, the ‘F R E’ had been smuggled in, and people gathered singing “get oil out of culture’, in response to the Louvre – and other cultural institutions – investing in the fossil fuel industry. The demonstration proceeded in a very peaceful manner, and later the ‘climate angels’, a group of around seven females of all ages dressed as angels, appeared. It was a rather moving scene, with people from all over the world and from different walks of life, coming together to speak out in solidarity for the halting of climate destruction.

We are in difficult times; world leaders are facing huge challenges – balancing the need for economic stability, development and reducing inequality with the need to address climate adversities, natural resource depletion, rising sea levels and so forth in addition to ensuring global security.

It is however, in contrary to the belief of many, not a mutually exclusive dilemma. The choice does not have to be made to resolve one problem instead of the other; there are many solutions toward ensuring prosperity, development and a reduction of global inequality, whilst respecting planetary boundaries; not forgetting that climate stresses and resource conflict is a huge perpetuator of security instability. The conflict in Syria, for example, has its roots in drought and groundwater depletion; the Arab spring was perpetuated forward and gained momentum in reaction to the staple food price hikes of 2008.

The outlook is not as bleak as it may seem. Many solutions have been put forward; a greener [and low-carbon] economy is certainly the way forward, and energy democracy in the form of community-owned energy is already being widely practised in Germany and yielding positive results. Better agricultural practice, and sustainable water management policies in some areas of sub-Saharan Africa - coupled with agroforestry projects - are seeing biodiversity come back, along with more fertile land – increasing local food security.

There are positive steps, however more pressure needs to be put on world leaders to come up with a safe deal that keeps within the ‘climate red lines’. Keeping within these ‘red lines’ means respecting scientific evidence and advice calling on severe greenhouse gas emission cuts to ensure we stay within the 1.5-degree temperature increase. In a time where the world is in a state of climatic emergency, it seems that more than ever freedom is needed to express the urgency of the matter, and the freedom to expose institutional and systemic flaws which present barriers to achieving these ends.

The French State of Emergency may be in place to protect the present, however it highly jeopardises the future and brings into question: what type of democracy do we live in, if in times of hardship and challenge we decide to stray from and strip our ethos of “liberté, egalité and fraternité” into one of “control, suppression and suspicion”?

Yesterday I attended a panel discussion in the Climate Action Zone, where the speaker evoked the spirit of Mahatma Ghandi. The words resonate:

“First, they ignore you. Then, they laugh at you. Finally, they fight you. And then you win.”

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