Protests in Paris as climate talks stumble

Philippe Lopez / AFP | People gather at Hotel de Ville, in central Paris, to take part in the march for the climate, on September 8, 2018.

More than 18,000 people marched Saturday in Paris as part of an international mobilisation to show popular support for urgent measures to combat climate change ahead of a San Francisco summit.


Crowds overflowed a square in front of City Hall before marching east to the Place de la République, carrying an urgent message that it's up to the public to put global warming at the top of the political agenda.

"Planet in Danger," read some banners. Police estimated that 18,500 took part in the Paris march, while organisers put the number at some 50,000.

FRANCE 24's Chris Moore, reporting from City Hall in central Paris, said that Saturday's marches had renewed momentum.

Some 30,000 of the protesters had responded to an appeal on Facebook, launched by a man called Maxime Lelong who described himself as an "ordinary concerned citizen", saying they would attend the protests.

Lelong’s appeal came in the wake of the resignation of France’s popular environment minister and celebrity green campaigner, Nicolas Hulot, who quit his role last month, accusing the French government of only taking baby steps in the fight against climate change.

Hulot’s appointment was a coup for French President Emmanuel Macron – Hulot had declined to serve under previous French presidents – but his public resignation on live radio at the end of August dealt a damaging blow to the Macron government’s green credentials.

Cleménce Dubois, spokesperson for the movement and one of the event's organisers, said Hulot’s resignation “was a turning point for many people”.

“It became clear that the government was greenwashing its policies. Emmanuel Macron introduced himself as a climate champion but it takes more than communication to actually be a climate leader,” Dubois added. 

NGOs and organisers of Saturday’s events in Paris stressed that the protest was not about supporting one politician or another, Moore added, it was really about honouring the words that Hulot gave when he resigned.

"In an era of [Donald] Trump," Hulot said, "many people are simply resigned to their fate on climate change. That’s the absolute opposite of what we need."

Activists around the world encouraged "Rise for Climate" protests before the summit taking place September 12 - September 14. California's governor proposed the event after Trump vowed to pull the US out of a landmark 2015 climate accord.

The international agreement was negotiated in France, and the French capital's march was more successful than ones held Saturday in other French cities or elsewhere in Europe.

Several hundred people gathered in France's southern port city of Marseille. Several dozen called for an end to the use of fossil fuels outside London's Tate Modern art gallery. Only about two dozen showed up in Barcelona, Spain.

The front-page of France's daily Liberation newspaper featured a call from 700 French scientists for the government to "move from incantations to acts to move toward a carbon-free society."

The language was a reference to Macron's use of the phrase "Make our planet great again," a takeoff on Trump's "Make America Great Again" campaign slogan.

The signing scientists also called for "strong and clear political choices" and said "solutions are available".

The march in Paris, organised with the theme "Change the system, but don't change the climate," was both festive and serious.

One protester, Manuel Bibes, denounced the plastic that inundates daily life. Another, Rodgrigo de la Vega criticised the practice of driving down the road to buy bread.

"There is no Planet B," a sign read.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

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