I made a small crowdfunding contribution to get today’s Guest Poster, Thom Mitchell of New Matilda, to the Climate Talks in Paris. This is the email he sent to his supporters earlier today – with permission to share.
Bonjour de Paris,
Thanks to your generous support of New Matilda and myself, I’ve been pounding the cobblestones in the City of Lights now for four days. It’s been strange: the State of Emergency which flowed from the Paris terror attacks has given rise, literally, to an army of armed guards.
Many of them are dressed in military fatigues, many of them are cops, and all of them are heavily armed. There’s beefy men with guns on every street corner and in every alcove. I’m staying right by Place De République, which is less than a kilometre from Le Bataclan where the main attacks occurred. It’s near the bar-littered district which was targeted by gunmen, and it’s tense like a spring loaded with the memory of Paris’ fresh trauma.
At a cafe I’ve been frequenting, I spoke to a Kiwi who’s been living in Paris close to a year. He saw ‘them’, he said, “just get out of their cars with machine guns and start shooting; the bodies turned inside out”. He sheltered with the army, said he saw the tanks role in. Two days later, at Le République, which has transformed into a perpetually candlelit vigil people often pause at passing through, when a large crowd got spooked by a firecracker. They stampeded into cafes, overturning set tables to shield them from bullets that never came.
Just a few months earlier, he’d been across the road from the offices of Charlie Hebdo, the site of an earlier terror strike, and understandably he’s shaken. The French are trying to play down their terror, he said, to not let on how deeply affected they are. But I’m told the streets are unusually thin with people. One woman I spoke with said she’s avoiding going out, and not reading the news, because she knows she’ll restart imagining if she does.
There’s a sort of theatre being played out by the men with rifles, handguns, bullet vests and batons. I’ve followed a few convoys, sirens blaring, only for them to park calmly just a few blocks away. Nothing to see there but scores of vans, sometimes marked and sometimes not; coveting the hundreds or thousands of security people walking, parking, leaning against walls and those big French double doors that lead to apartment building courtyards.
But I came for the climate conference, arguably one of the greatest peace talks in the world, and so did thousands of activists. They’re competing for the now heavily controlled public space, and again La République is a point in case. It’s the first thing I saw when I emerged from the subway and my thirty-hour long haul flight, and it’s become a symbol of the conflicted and confused response of shaken Parisians.
Named after the French Republic, and home to a large bronze statue symbolising it, Marianne, it’s long been a flashpoint of political activity. The hundreds of thousands of climate campaigners who had been set to take to Parisian streets would, I assume, have focalised on it if a march that had been planned for November 29 hadn’t been stymied by the State of Emergency.
Now, in fraternity with the planet and the millions or billions that stand to be decimated if global greenhouse gas emissions are not brought to heel and stomped out, a human chain will issue from the iconic square, the physical allegory to France’s claimed values of liberty and equality.
As the United Nations General Secretary Envoy for Youth said at a climate function I attended on Friday, “we are here to show that France and Paris will always be stronger than the attempts of these fanatics…[but] we are also here to send a message of support and solidarity with the planet, the only planet we have”.
But over and above the sting of the attacks, there is a sense of hope with greater longevity. A few hours ago, I filed my first yarn from Le Bourget, on the Parisian fringe where the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is being staged.
That’s the UN lingo for the international process around climate change, and the Executive Secretary to that convention, Christiana Figueres, was there at Le Bourget today. So was the French Foreign Minister, who’s soon to be installed as President of COP21, Laurant Fabius. They gave a lengthy press briefing on where the process is at, and what to expect in the coming two weeks of negotiations.
They didn’t mention the sleep deprivation, or the lack of nutritious food that has allegedly plagued past talks (although, the salad I had today was pretty bloody good). But they did exude confidence the Paris climate talks will be a success.
They would, though, of course, wouldn’t they?
But it’s true that there’s cause for optimism, and I think one of Figuere’s comments was genuinely made: “Before [it] was thought that addressing climate change was going to be only a burden. Now, over time, and particularly in the past year, it has been shown that we do not need to choose between economic development, between security, and between addressing climate change, but that these things go hand in hand”.
The Pope, Islamic Scholars, the US and China; segments of business, swathes of sub-national jurisdictions, and the vast mobilisation of people across the globe this weekend have moved in unison over recent months to set the stage for a (comparatively) ambitious, legally binding, and imperative climate pact to keep the rise in global average temperatures at least below two degrees.
They all have their own agendas, it’s true. Some of them will be invidious, like our own Prime Minister’s. Other’s will be insidious, like the fossil fuel companies that are ironically and insultingly funding the climate conference. And some of them will be illusory, like many of the non-government agencies that are working to ramp up pressure on problem countries like Australia.
But the hallmark of the Paris talks is that they aim to set up a process. We know the agreement will not be enough to keep us within the internationally agreed two degree guard rail. Figeures admitted as much today. But its organisers have been careful to focus on establishing a process for ratcheting up national commitments over time, rather than resurrecting the ill-fated ‘Hopenhagen’ campaign the United Nations ran ahead of failed talks in 2009.
What’s really at stake, more than anything, is the nature of the response. We can be quietly confident that there’s enough will – and enough political skin in the game – to get a reasonable outcome.
This time, it’s more a question of who that process works for, and why. And it’s too early to tell how things will play out: Who will be legally bound, and how? Will rich nations accept responsibility for enriching themselves through fossil fuels that now threaten, in particular, people in the developing world? And how much influence will the long arm of the fossil fuel lobby wield?
I’ll be filing regular updates to keep you in the loop, and to show my gratitude for your support for independent media and my work. These insider emails are only going to the funders of this campaign, but of course, feel free to share if you like. And also feel free to drop me a line here if you have any questions or comments.
For now though,