The Planet

Why Climate Talks Matter in the Age of Terrorism (UPDATED)

by Mythili Sampathkumar

November 17, 2015
The French president minced no words in the wake of Friday’s attacks: “Terrorism will not destroy the French Republic because it is the Republic that will destroy it.” Image via Instagram user @fhollande.

On November 13, the world watched as terrorists systematically attacked Paris, killing at least 130 people and wounding several hundred more. In the face of unimaginable tragedy, the City of Light knew all too well that it needed to show resolve. President Francois Hollande pulled out of the G20 summit this week in Turkey in order to address his nation, controversially declaring that France was “at war” with ISIS. In a key move, he also stated that the COP21 Paris climate talks would go on as scheduled in just two weeks.

President Obama declared climate change a matter of national security back in May, and there have been rumblings that Friday’s acts of terrorism proved him right. By refusing to postpone the summit, negotiators have sent a powerful message: Climate change is important to the safety of our world and it will not be ignored. The question now is, how are the attacks going to affect the negotiations?

At Monday’s U.N. Security Council meeting, as members observed a moment of silence for the victims of the terrorist attacks in Beirut and Paris. Image via United Nations.

France has long been the seat of revolution, and many observers of the climate talks want it to stay that way. Before the attacks, several side events and at least one large-scale protest and march through the city center had been planned. Doubts arose over the weekend about whether it’s safe to hold such activities, given the guerrilla and random nature of the attacks. The prime minister of France, Manuel Valls, said it’s likely that COP21 will be “reduced to the negotiation” with associated “festive events” called off, and hinted earlier this week that the demonstration would be canceled. This afternoon, the prefecture of police of Paris stated that because of the heightened security situation, the government will not allow the Global Climate March planned in Paris for November 29 and the mobilizations planned for December 12.*

Yet preventing attendees in Paris from joining in with dozens of protests already being planned in cities all over the world does not reflect the spirit of COP21 or the city. Climate Action Network InternationalAvaaz, and 350.org all announced that they are in talks with French law enforcement authorities to see what can be done to keep people safe, while also allowing them to be heard. 

In 2014, the Climate March in Paris stretched for 1.5 km (nearly a mile). Image by Karl Mathiesen via Flickr user Oxfam International (cc).

No matter what happens with the protest, security measures are set to increase around COP21’s Le Bourget venue, though the site was initially selected for security reasons. Presumably, the heightened tension will shift the attention of 40,000 delegates and hundreds of heads of state to matters of safekeeping and global conflict. It shouldn’t, however, because the distinction is a false one. Reducing our carbon emissions will reduce our dependence on a product too often linked to acts of cruelty. According to the Financial TimesOil is the black gold that funds ISIS’s black flag.” The Islamic State is said to rely on donations from a variety of wealthy sources who have cornered the market on the fossil fuel every country at COP21 needs—earning up to $1.5 million a day from their territories’ production of crude oil. 

As monuments like the Freedom Tower in New York and the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus in Mumbai—where eerily similar attacks took place in 2008—lit up in the colors of the French flag over the weekend, the world was reminded that the countries at COP21 don’t operate in bubbles, and the environment isn’t a stand-alone issue. Climate change is approaching an urgent and catastrophic tipping point, and already threatens our supplies of food, water, shelter, and energy. Global warming is inseparable from public health, national security, economic development, and financial equality—in short, things the Islamic State aims to destroy. 

Christiana Figueres, head of the the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), has been clear about why it’s important for all of us, not only the dignitaries set to attend the talks in Paris, to go on as planned with COP21—because a successful climate conference will result in a safer world.

Via Twitter user @CFigueres.

*This line has been updated to reflect the news about the demonstration.

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Why Climate Talks Matter in the Age of Terrorism (UPDATED)