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Americas

Tens of thousands march in France demanding action on climate change

media People hold banner as they take part in a march on September 8, 2018 in Marseille, southern France, as part of a global day of action "Rise For Climate." Christophe SIMON / AFP

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'

"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.

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.

Clémence Dubois is France spokesperson for 350.org, the climate awareness group that organised the global marches.

“We are asking leaders around the world to listen to civil society instead of the fossil fuel industry, which is extracting more and more oil, coal and gas infrastructure, while we know that if we want to stay below the 1.5 degrees of warming, we have to stop these projects,” she said.

“Governments still listen to the industries that have been destroying the earth and the climate. They are still invited to the negotiating table. … We keep letting those industries dictate the rules, which benefit only a small minority.”

“The resignation of Nicolas Hulot has been a trigger for many people, because Hulot has a lot of credibility on environmental issues.”

“Macron presents himself as a climate champion in opposition to Trump, but communication is not enough. It’s not because you communicate that you’re doing what needs to be done.”

Fighting Climate Change

For his part, Jean-François Julliard, executive director of Greenpeace France pointed out that more and more people are highly committed to protecting our planet and fighting climate change.

“In terms of political positioning, Emmanuel Macron has been at the forefront of the fight against Donald Trump when he said the US would pull out of the Paris agreement, but at the same time, in France we are lacking concrete measures.”

One of the protesters, Yean-Erwin Schamschula, 31, says Macron poses as a climate defender vis-à-vis Donald Trump but does not offer meaningful action.

“There’s a big difference between communication, which is what you’re saying you’re doing in order to have people support you, and what you’re actually doing.

“When you look at facts, you realize it’s just wind, it’s nothing. That was the dilemma of Nicolas Hulot: stay in a government that only makes small symbolic steps for communication, or leave because it’s desperately not enough. I think he made the right choice.”

“We are running very late in terms of deploying renewable energy, because we rely too much on nuclear energy in France. / We are lacking efforts to shift to a more ecological agricultural system, which is more compatible with our efforts for climate change. So we have much to do. France is not the worst, but we could do more, because we have a strong economy and some democracy. We could be at the forefront of this fight, and we’re not.”

“There is a kind of competition between ecology and the economy. Our political leaders in France and in other countries have the feeling any time they have to take environmental measures, it’s not good for the economy in the short term. And sometimes it’s true, but sometimes we have to look beyond that and think of the future.”

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.

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