Nachricht | Gesellschaftliche Alternativen Beyond COP21 | Climate protests in a legal grey area

Saturday is ‘D12’. The climate (justice) movement will take to the streets in Paris to have the last word on the foreseeably catastrophic results of negotiations. The legal situation is more than vague.

Whilst negotiators at the conference centre in Le Bourget are still working on an international climate agreement (that in reality is neither an agreement nor something that will protect the climate), the climate movement in Paris is ensuring that it will have the last word on the negotiations. This is a change of strategy, as during the summits over the last 20 years the large demonstrations have traditionally taken place during the summits, in the hope of somehow influencing the outcome of negotiations.

Saturday is 'D12'

For the movement, having the last word means taking to the streets with creative protests. However, during the two weeks of the summit the state has continuously changed its position on the actions it will permit on 'D12'. It seems the French government found it hard to agree on what to do in this case.

Alongside the state of emergency, French regional elections have further complicated the already complex situation. The second round of elections will take place on Sunday. In the first round, Front National became the strongest party; the social democrats (called socialists in France) lagged far behind and came third.

To prevent this result from repeating itself, the left-leaning wing of the government wants to be friendlier to social movements to ensure that they vote for the left-wing camp (PS, Green Party and PCF). The right-leaning wing of the governing socialists, however, fears that the protests could lead to riots which would then play into the hands of the right-wing and the far right on Sunday.

'Tolerating' the protests instead of a right to protest

The French government's response to this situation has been the creation of a new, informal legal status: the police is to 'tolerate' protests on the streets. Climate activists do not have the right to express their opinion about the failed conference in rallies freely on the streets, nor have rallies been forbidden explicitly. This places protests in a grey area.

What does this mean? In principle, in the wake of a social shock (in this case the two terror attacks in Paris that occurred this year), people have lost basic civil rights, such as the freedom of assembly. A total ban on demonstrations, however, would contradict the integrative and hegemonic claims of modern French bourgeois democracy. Accordingly, the system needs to create outlets for the accumulated anger of the thousands of climate activists who are currently in the city. Therefore, the state is permitting some of the demonstrations.

This situation, however, is very different from providing citizens with a right to public assembly. The government is currently only providing implicit permission for protests, and only to those initiatives and groups that do not openly challenge it. These groups' activities are 'tolerated'; whereas, all other protests are banned due to the state of emergency. Put more simply, we could call this an effective development towards clientelistic governance.

For the D12 protests on Saturday, this means that the 'Red Lines' action, during which thousands of activists with red symbols will mark the red line that the final document of the climate summit should not (but probably will) cross will be allowed to take place. Activists will honour the victims of climate change and brandish those who profit from it. A further large rally at the Eiffel Tower will also probably earn the coveted status of tolerance.

We will be there to follow the events as they unfold and most importantly to report on what the movements plan to do next year.