“The road to Paris” was the tired cliché tirelessly rolled out again and again by journalists and climate wonks in the run up to this week’s COP21 climate conference. But that road is now officially closed. And the metro train to Paris isn’t faring much better.
With COP21 finally upon us, France has announced an innovative means of offsetting the greenhouse gas emissions generated by the conference: getting the Paris region’s 12 million residents to sit at home and avoid driving for a couple of days.
A spokesperson for the conference said that the emissions generated by the conference – including flights, on-site energy use and production of several million croissants – would be precisely offset by closing two major motorways into the city, half of the peripherique ring-road and a handful of major roads through the city centre. When challenged that this might not be quite enough to offset all the emissions generated from extra cheese consumption during the fortnight, the authorities decided to throw in public transport too, heavily encouraging all the capital region’s residents to neither take their car nor hop on the metro. In a classically gallic communications mix-up one official was announcing that public transport would be free during the road closures while another was imploring people not to take it. The irony that this is rather similar to the way that all governments of the world continue to subsidise fossil fuels while at the same time calling for emissions reductions, was not lost on seasoned observers.
In some cases the authorities have taken draconian measures to enforce this planned avoidance of emissions, for example by placing a number of key climate activists under house arrest. With Paris’s law enforcement stretched to breaking point this weekend, the use of scant resources to protect a few pacifist greenies seems extraordinarily heavy-handed*.
And as Chinese president Xi Jinping touches down in Paris, it appears his government is showing a sign of goodwill by adopting a similar measure at home – insisting that Beijing residents stay inside to avoid the suffocating smog.
So with the French and Chinese capitals’ residents holed up at home doing their bit for avoided emissions, the world’s heads of state will start to roll in and enjoy the unprecedented spectacle of driving around the peripherique without being aggressively klaxoned off the road or even stuck in traffic. Interviewed on arrival in Paris, one world leader was asked how good were the chances of a strong climate deal. “Climate?” he said “What a strange question. We’re not here for that. We’re here to talk about terrorism and the middle-east, and to show that we’re not afraid of Kalashnikov-waving barbarians, nor of Vladimir Putin”. When pressed on the issue, he conceded that there might also be some climate discussion but that “most of that negotiation’s already happened” and “we’ll fly out on Monday and leave it to the little people to thrash out a few details on financing for developing countries and how often we purportedly promise to revise our targets”.
Meanwhile in another part of Paris locals have started to complain of a different sort of emissions problem. During the small hours of Sunday morning a cheesy odour began to emanate from the hallowed cobbles of the Place de la République. Interviewed on local TV this morning, resident Jacinthe LeFromage noted “At first I thought it was just the usual camembert aroma from the Sunday market but quickly it became unbearable”. Links to the installation of thousands of pairs of Parisians’ shoes at République are so far unconfirmed. But by lunchtime the statue of the Madeleine was said to be visibly wrinkling up her nose.
[*But, that said, what were these people thinking? The blood stains on Paris’s streets are barely dry and yet they moan about political conspiracy and having their voices silenced, simply because the government doesn’t want to risk more people being unnecessarily gunned down in the streets of the city of love? Yes public pressure on climate change is hugely important and has been massively influential this year (think Keystone XL and the Chinese government running scared over air pollution). But one more march, miles away from the conference centre and the heads of state, is not going to make much difference. Especially with gun-toting crazies seemingly still ready to strike at any moment. If we need one thing from COP21 above all else, it’s for no more blood to be spilt on these ancient streets.]