Paris human chain presses leaders for climate deal

29th November 2015, Comments 0 comments

Protesters linked hands near the heart of the Paris terror attacks Sunday but others clashed with police, giving an emotional jolt to world leaders flying into the French capital to try to save Earth from climate catastrophe.

As hundreds of thousands of people joined protests worldwide, the human chain aimed to send a highly symbolic message to leaders on the eve of the official opening of a 195-nation UN climate summit in Paris.

French authorities cancelled two climate demonstrations in the City of Light after gunmen and suicide bombers killed 130 people on November 13 for security reasons.

Though the Paris protests were overwhelmingly peaceful, a small band of anti-capitalist militants clashed with riot police in the late afternoon leading to the arrests of about 100 people.

Instead of marching, many activists left thousands of pairs of shoes -- weighing more than four tonnes according to organisers -- on Place de la Republique square. A pair of running shoes was left by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, and Pope Francis sent shoes to be placed on his behalf.

In the first organised demonstration in the French capital since the attacks, climate protesters of all ages lined the wind-blown streets to link up in a two-kilometre (1.2-mile) human chain.

"Hear our voices! We are here!" they chanted.

- Powerful current -

"There was a lot of solemnity, dignity on the pavements. There was a powerful current that passed between people's hands," said Genevieve Azam, spokeswoman for organising group Attac.

"It was a pleasure to be able to lift the lid that has weighed on French people since the attacks."

Protesters left a 100-metre (300-foot) gap in the human chain outside the Bataclan concert hall, the site where gunmen killed 90 people, as a mark of respect to the victims.

Hours later, though, riot police fired teargas at protesters who pelted them with bottles and candles in Place de la Republique and chanted "State of emergency, police state", referring to the post-attack protest restrictions.

Around 100 people were arrested after the clashes, according to police.

Some 150 leaders, including US President Barack Obama, China's Xi Jinping, India's Narendra Modi and Russia's Vladimir Putin, will attend the official start Monday of the UN conference tasked with reaching the first truly universal climate pact.

About 2,800 police and soldiers will secure the site of the November 30-December 11 conference, and 6,300 others will deploy in Paris.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said nearly 1,000 people thought to pose security risks had been denied entry into France, which has reimposed border controls since November 13 to protect the summit.

The goal of the climate talks is to limit average global warming to no more than two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), over pre-Industrial Revolution levels by curbing fossil fuel emissions blamed for climate change.

Rallies demanding curbs on carbon pollution have been growing around the world since Friday, with marches involving tens of thousands across Australia Sunday kickstarting a final day of people-powered protest.

- 'Historic opportunity' -

In London, where thousands of people rallied, Oscar-winner Emma Thompson called on world leaders to grab the "historic" opportunity to reach a deal.

"I went to the Arctic with my daughter last year and saw for myself the degradation of the environment there and it made me and helped me understand in a much more visceral real way what was happening to the planet," Thompson told AFP.

More than 325,000 people across 175 countries were involved in the rallies, according to a preliminary estimate by Greenpeace, one of the organisers.

"People have taken to the streets to demand that we change the way we power our world," Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo said.

Religious leaders in Paris also delivered petitions to the UN summit organisers with almost 1.8 million signatures demanding immediate climate action.

In a sign of the urgency, the start of the negotiations themselves, conducted by bureaucrats, have been brought forward to Sunday -- the eve of the official opening.

In the past week, the UN's weather body said the average global temperature for the year 2015 is set to rise one degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels, halfway towards the targeted UN ceiling.

Voluntary carbon-curbing pledges submitted by nations to bolster the Paris pact, even if fully adhered to, put Earth on track for warming of 2.7-3.5 degrees C, according to UN climate chief Christiana Figueres.

Scientists warn of superstorms, drought and rising sea levels swamping vast areas if concrete action is not taken soon.

Potential stumbling blocks range from finance for climate vulnerable and poor countries to scrutiny of commitments to curb greenhouse gases and even the legal status of the accord.

The last attempt to forge a global deal -- the ill-tempered 2009 Copenhagen summit -- foundered upon divisions between rich and poor countries.

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© 2015 AFP

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