Saturday

16th Feb 2019

Red lines for climate activists at Paris summit

  • Danish MEP Margrete Auken, media, and passers by at one Paris protest (Photo: Peter Teffer)

“Participants over here! Media, go down there!”

A female organizer of a protest at the climate change conference in Paris on Friday (11 December) had to give orders so that she could distinguish activists from journalists.

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  • Greenpeace's 'Aurora' polar bear (Photo: Peter Teffer)

This is not always easy at the summit, due to a high concentration of media combined with long periods of inactivity outside the closed doors behind which ministers are negotiating a new climate treaty.

Thanks to a frequent lack of things to film or photograph, protests are a welcome subject – plus the symbolic images 'do well' on television. Not seldomly do non-governmental organisations (NGOs) send out press releases advertising the protests as “media opportunities”.

At Friday's protest, participants created a red line by holding red banners of a metre high and a few metres across, all the way down the main outdoor corridor between the halls of the Bourget conference centre where the talks are being held.

The red line symbolized the elements of the text which the protester say should not be compromised on.

“Justice!”, they shouted, “Equity!” and: “Finance!”

Officially, protests at the Bourget site need to be approved minimum 24 hours ahead by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

They may only be requested by organisations that have been granted so-called “observer” status, and whose members have badges to enter the so-called blue zone.

Organisations need to send the UN body, which organized the conference with the French, a filled-out form listing a detailed description of the desired “additional activities at UNFCCC sessions”.

The document, seen by this website, asks for a list of the technical equipment, the location of the protest, and which texts will be involved.

It also asks the organiser to fill out: “Item and dimension (please add photo), quantity of people/items necessary for set-up/operation, noise level”.

The organisers of the red-line protest did not follow the official path, but “informed” security two hours ahead. The same happened to a sit-in that occurred on Wednesday.

Friends of the Earth International, which organised Wednesday's protest, said “at least 500 people” participated – although this reporter could not independently verify that figure.

The sit-in was surrounded by so many people wielding camera's, that it was impossible to determine who was activist and who was journalist – or accidental passer-by.

According to activists, security has tolerated such protests.

A fully approved one was “Aurora”, Greenpeace's mock polar bear, several metres high, whose head was controlled by a man wearing a beanie sitting behind it.

At noon on Friday, the bear let loose a roaring sound. A group of around twenty people were watching it, many of them making photos with their phones or tablets.

Many people passed by without more than a glance, but several stopped for a few seconds, some of them to take a self-portrait with the polar bear in the background.

A Greenpeace activist, who said she was not allowed to speak on the record, told this website she thought the UNFCCC rules were “understandable”.

She said the bear was allowed to roar whenever Greenpeace wanted, but that displacement of the object – which she said requires around fifty people – could only occur on agreed times.

“You want to draw attention, but you also want to respect the demand for security,” she noted.

Meanwhile, many activities across Paris have been cancelled these past two weeks, in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks.

Nevertheles, several thousands of protesters are expected to show up for the weekend.

While the state of emergency is still in place, activists said that they have reached an accord with French police for several demonstrations.

On Saturday (12 December), Friends of the Earth activists will write a digital message by making photos from specified locations, thereby collectively writing a message on a map of Paris.

At 2PM, protesters will form a large human chain in the Champ de Mars in central Paris, under the Eiffel Tower. According to activists involved, police have told them the protests will be allowed.

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