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Organisers hope Paris attacks don't overshadow COP21 climate summit

Alain Jocard, AFP | French military stand guard outside the venue that will host the COP21 UN climate conference

One of France’s leading environmental activists expressed hope that the recent terrorist attacks would urge world leaders to "reinforce their focus on the planet" and strike an international deal on climate change.

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Nicolas Hulot, who as President François Hollande’s special envoy for the environment has played a key role in organizing the COP21 conference, said Wednesday there was a “risk” that the terror attacks claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group could once again relegate climate change “to the back burner”.

He nevertheless expressed hope that the tragedy would inspire world leaders who are gathering in Paris on November 30 to “reinforce their focus on the planet” and take a collective stand.

“[COP21] is not just a conference about climate change, it’s also a peace summit”, Hulot said in a meeting with the Anglo-American Press Association. “Climate change has dangerous consequences, in particular with the massive displacement of populations and the increasing wealth inequality across the world”.

Hulot said world leaders would have a unique opportunity while in Paris to start reducing their economies’ dependency on fossil fuels, and thus stem the source of many armed conflicts.

US President Barack Obama, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin are among more than 150 heads of state that will be in Paris for the start of the COP21 summit, which aims to obtain binding pledges from countries to massively reduce their CO2 emissions and slow global warming.

Marches cancelled

Another goal of the two-week conference is to secure $100 billion per year by 2020 from global institutions and wealthier countries to help the developing world transition  to clean energy sources more quickly.

There were concerns that an increased focus on fighting terrorism in the wake of the Paris attacks would potentially shift funds away from tackling climate change.

In his first speech following the November 13 attacks that killed 130 people in the French capital, Hollande declared the attacks an "act of war" by the IS group and said he would not hesitate to forego European fiscal guidelines if more money was needed to boost security in his country.

The threat of another attack on French soil has also forced authorities to pull the plug on two citizen marches that were planned to coincide with the start and close of the COP21 conference.

Hulot, who also heads up an environmental non-profit group, said he was disappointed ordinary citizens would be deprived of an opportunity to express themselves and put pressure on leaders at the COP21 negotiating table, but defended the decision.

“I have been working with the government and know there is good reason to cancel these marches”, Hulot said. “I think the fact that the COP21 is going ahead is already a courageous decision by French authorities”.

“I think that everyone understands that it is impossible to ensure the safety of hundreds of thousands of people given the uncertainty that reigns right now”, added Hulot.

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