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Paris: closed to civil society, open to greenwashers

France
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In preparation for the Paris climate talks Philippines groups launch climate justice march. 350.org / AC Dimatatac under a Creative Commons Licence

The French government is trying to silence social movements, but we refuse to go quietly, says campaigner Pascoe Sabido.

In the days after the tragic events on 13 November in Paris, everything concerning the climate talks was in limbo. A state of emergency was called. Would the summit go ahead at all? What would it mean for the mass mobilizations being planned?

The week that followed has seen the state of emergency extended for three months and the government ban all demonstrations. Not just the big demos, but any gathering of more than two people bearing a political message. The political message behind that decision is clear: the government is criminalizing social movements and supressing dissent. Christmas markets, football matches, other mass public events can take place; it’s the politics that’s the problem.

While the government has clamped down on political expression from civil society, its support for big business shindigs has not waivered.

The first tweet to come from the official COP21 account following the attacks claimed that ‘Paris is still standing and ready for COP21’, and linked directly to a statement from the Solutions COP21 corporate-expo.

The organizers of the event claimed the attack ‘was an attack against life, youth, friendliness and culture, thus targeting our capacity to live together’ but that their event was ‘a direct answer to all those who are willing to add a concrete contribution toward the evolution of our societies following a positive and equitable approach, and to foster solidarity toward those in need, besides preserving our quality of life.’

What they fail to mention is that Solutions COP21 is a platform for some of the world’s most socially and environmentally destructive corporations, whose business models constantly attack life, youth, friendliness, solidarity and any notion of an equitable approach.

Sponsored by the likes of dirty energy giant Engie (formerly GDF Suez, also an official sponsor of COP21) alongside fracking enthusiast Suez Environment and agrofuels giant Avril-Sofiproteol, the event at the Grand Palais will also welcome Vinci, the company behind the proposed airport at Notre-Dame-des-Landes, coal financiers HSBC and BNP Paribas, and Coca-Cola, among many others.

As the organizers are proud to admit, corporate climate criminals will be joined inside the event by small and medium enterprises, NGOs (some of whom have pulled out after public pressure) and international artists (some of whom have refused to pull out on discovering the true nature of the event).

Such an ensemble lends a veneer of respectability that money can’t buy. But what it can buy is political access. Corporate packages ranging up to $266,000 ensure you don’t have to settle for mere exhibition space but can have VIP access to networking areas with negotiators and politicians, as well as guaranteed TV coverage.

In short, the French government has put its weight behind a corporate greenwashing event for the biggest polluters to push their false solutions – such as fracking, nuclear energy, GMOs and market-based solutions – at the same time as silencing those very communities coming to Paris to denounce such destructive business practices and the fatal impacts they have on the ground.

Before the attacks took place, there was already a public call for mass civil disobedience against (false) Solutions COP21, coming from a diverse range of organizations including ATTAC France, Via Campesina, the trade union Solidaires, the grassroots activist networks Climate Justice Action and the JEDIs, Sortir du Nucleaire and Corporate Europe Observatory. Huge uncertainty followed, but hearing the response from both the organizers of Solutions COP21 and the French government, it now feels more important than ever for the mobilization to take place.

The fight for climate justice is intertwined with the fight for peace, not just in Europe but in communities around the world facing violence and terror as a result of our extractivist economic model.

If the French government thinks that events in the Grand Palais are more important than the voices of those on the frontline fighting climate change and its causes, then that’s where their message needs to be delivered.

If you are in Paris on Friday 4 December, make your way to the venue from 10.00am, where guides will take you on a ‘toxic tour’ around the expo with representatives of frontline communities as they call out the false solutions on offer. Meanwhile, creative acts of civil disobedience are planned to stop the event from staying open.

As others in the climate movement have said already, now is not the time to stay silent. No-one intends to.

Pascoe Sabido is a researcher and campaigner with Corporate Europe Observatory.