Protests in Paris on first days of historic climate conference

riot police spray protesters in paris

PARIS — Delegates to a globally anticipated gathering of world leaders and climate experts began arriving in Paris this weekend with a monumental challenge ahead: forge an unprecedented agreement to dramatically curb global greenhouse gas emissions, turning the conversation to climate change just weeks after extremists killed 130 people here.

With careful attention to safety and situational awareness, The GroundTruth Project’s team of six emerging journalists takes on its own challenge: find and develop climate stories that will resonate with a global audience already inundated by news of terror attacks, civil wars, suffering refugees along with climate-tied droughts and disasters.

The stories are everywhere around Le Bourget airport, with world leaders from more than 150 countries recommitted to attending with enhanced security protocols in spite of the Nov. 13 attacks. As many as 50,000 attendees are also expected at the UN’s 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) over the next two weeks.

“We’re here with six top, young journalists in Paris not to report on terrorism but to find powerful narrative stories about a much more profound and long-term global security threat: climate change,” said GroundTruth founder and executive director Charles Sennott. “These correspondents are reporting on the most important issue of their generation, and many generations to come.”

GroundTruth’s six reporting fellows began their work on Sunday by picking up press credentials at the immense COP21 venue before covering a day of action around the Place de la République, home to the beloved statue of Marianne, the symbolic figurehead of the French republic.

Just 10 minutes on foot from the Bataclan concert venue where 89 were killed and 200 were injured, the Place has become both a site of mourning — with Marianne still adorned with fresh flowers, candles and photos of the dead — and a rallying point.

On Sunday, the day a massive climate march had been planned before the French government cancelled it due to security concerns, the international climate advocacy group Avaaz laid out 22,000 shoes donated from around the world representing those who wouldn’t be able to walk.

But small, defiant marches did take place along the surrounding streets and through the Place. And a “human chain” connected 10,000 Parisians and representatives from dozens of countries holding hands along the previous march route. GroundTruth reporters gathered video, audio and photography while interviewing participants from the Philippines, Spain, Britain, Australia, the US and across France.

As groups of more aggressive protesters began louder chants and more direct challenges to the already heavy police presence in the afternoon, battle-clad police pushed forward and seized a large portion of the square, swinging nightsticks and firing stun grenades and tear gas. A cat-and-mouse game between protesting holdouts and police continued well into Sunday evening, with more than 100 arrests made.