Activists Dragged Out of Climate Expo for Protesting Corporate Influence over COP21 Negotiations
The U.N. climate summit has come under scrutiny for its unprecedented level of corporate sponsorship—more than 50 companies, with some of them counted by climate activists as being among the world’s worst industrial polluters. On Friday, climate activists gathered at the Grand Palais in Paris protesting the COP21 "Solutions" exhibition, where businesses were pushing for corporate and privatized responses to climate change. Several protesters were evicted from the premises by the large security presence at the event.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re broadcasting live from COP21, from the U.N. climate summit here in Paris, France, as we turn to the issue of corporate sponsorship of the summit. On Friday, climate activists gathered at the Grand Palais in Paris protesting the COP21 "Solutions" exhibition, where businesses were pushing for corporate and privatized responses to climate change. Tens of protesters were evicted from the premises by the large security presence there. Democracy Now!’s Nermeen Shaikh and Hany Massoud were there. Pascoe Sabido of the Corporate Europe Observatory helped organize the action.
PASCOE SABIDO: We’re here in the Grand Palais in Paris. This is one of the biggest exhibition centers, a beautiful old building. I mean, look at the ceiling, just for a start. This holds like—at the moment, next door is a Picasso exhibition. It holds really big, high-level stuff. But at the moment, between the 4th and 10th of December, it’s holding Solutions COP21, which is a massive corporate expo. The likes of—I mean, you look around here, we’ve got Engie, which used to be called GDF Suez, a big coal player pushing natural gas. We’ve got banks, like HSBC, BNP Paribas, who are pushing coal. We’ve got those building airports. I mean, you’ve got all sorts of stuff going on here, all claiming to be solutions. So they’re all in here to try and greenwash their image and present themselves as part of the solution to climate change. But I don’t think anyone is buying it, or at least none of us who have come here for our action.
But, I mean, in terms of security, which is quite—I don’t know. Walking in here, I was a bit terrified. You’ve got the what is called the CRS, these guys with their body armor and their shields and everything, and they are quite threatening. So, hopefully, we can avoid them. We’ll see what happens. But there’s undercover cops everywhere. So, what we plan to do is, if all goes to plan, when we have enough people in here, do a series of lobby tours, like toxic tours, to go around and really call out what these companies are really doing. And because we’re going to have people—you know, we’re going to have a lot of front-line communities, coming from some peasant struggles to those fighting tar sands in Canada to gas and fracking fights, so really coming out and hearing front-line community stories of how these false solutions are actually not part of a climate future.
AHMED GAYA: Toxic tour of this toxic sponsor of COP21.
My name is Ahmed Gaya. I’m with Rising Tide North America. This is a toxic tour of the Solutions COP21. We have a number of folks from front-line communities who have been battling with some of the companies that are sponsoring the COP21 and sponsoring this Solutions 21 with their pavilions, who are going to be giving a tour of their communities and what they’re fighting. And up first, we have Engie, which is actually one of France’s largest coal companies, that’s been lobbying heavily against emissions standards in France. In 2014 alone, they spent 2.5 million euros lobbying against emissions standards. And here they’ve paid to enter the COP21 Solutions 21 conference, to pay for access to negotiators and influence the COP process and greenwash their image. We have some folks here from Australia, who have been fighting Engie in Australia, who want to tell you a little bit about what Engie’s been doing in that community. Over here, I’m going to pass it over to Ruth.
RUTH: Activists in Australia continue to fight to shut this coal mine down. It is the dirtiest in the world. And Engie is making billions, while people in my local community suffer health consequences for their greed. Enough is enough. Pay the bill, Engie.
PROTESTERS: Pay the bill, Engie! Pay the bill, Engie!
AHMED GAYA: To Suez, just across, just across the way. We’re going over to Suez. So, maybe they won’t let us go over there, so we’re going to stay right here. So, Suez is pushing fracking across Europe. They’re one of the largest organizations involved in pushing fracking in Europe. We have some folks from the United States, indigenous folks that have been fighting fracking. I’m going to pass things over the Kandi Mossett from the Indigenous Environmental Network.
KANDI MOSSETT: Suez is talking about fracking as a solution to the future. I am from North Dakota, where they are fracking my homeland and killing our people in the name of a false solution for climate justice. We are looking for renewables. Fracking is not one of them.
AHMED GAYA: We started walking over to the booth that’s sponsored by Vinci and Suez. The police and security formed a line and prevented us from going to their booth. But we’re going to now head over this way to Veolia, because it looks like more police are coming.
Kandi, we’re coming this way. [inaudible] is heading to Veolia.
So, we’re kettled. Security has threatened us. They have formed a line. They’ve got arms. They’re trying to grab me. People are cheering in support, because we’re calling out these false solutions. Police have us surrounded. They have linked their arms. People are ducking under their arms to get out. All we’re doing here is we are—we’re speaking the truth about what’s going on here. We’re speaking to reporters. People have been speaking to reporters all day at these booths and giving interviews. But when we speak about the false solutions and expose the truth of what’s happening, we get kettled by police and shut down.
HANY MASSOUD: Pascoe, what’s happening? Pascoe, Pascoe, what’s happening? What’s happening?
PASCOE SABIDO: The police are clearly working for the likes of Engie.
HANY MASSOUD: What’s happening? What’s happening?
PASCOE SABIDO: They’re arresting people who are trying to speak truth. They’re basically grabbing our arms and our legs and taking us out, because they are working for the likes of Engie and others promoting false solutions. If we’re serious about tackling climate change, then we need to make sure that these security are on our side. This is not about these guys. They’re doing what they’re told, what they’re paid to do. But unfortunately, money can buy you quite a lot of security. So, we’re going to be taken out, but it does not end here. We’re going to continue. We’re going to be in the streets. We’re going to be on the front lines. We’re going to take down Engie and the others whilst they are in our communities, and we’re going to make sure that actually our climate future is in the hands of people and not big business.
SABINE CESSOU: I’m Sabine Cessou, journalist. I work for several media in France. And what’s going on here is that the policemen are actually taking all the activists that came inside the Grand Palais to protest against those big companies who are doing greenwashing, as you can see here. It’s more like a commercial fair than anything else. So, these people are protesting. It’s freedom of speech in our country. We’re in 2015, and we have policemen really taking all these people one by one and taking them out, because they don’t want any disturbance. There’s an urgent state now because of the attentat, the attacks, the terrorist attacks, and it’s a police state all over the place. And we are going to see that more and more, suppression of our liberties and freedom of speech being breached.
EXHIBITION ATTENDEE: I don’t understand. I’m not an activist. I’m not a journalist. I’m being detained by the police for just trying to learn about what’s going on around me. I don’t belong to any organization. I’m not doing anything but coming to this exhibition. And now, for some reason, the police of France have decided to hold on to me, and I can’t leave. So, I’m not sure if this is the reason that I came to France. I don’t believe it was. I came here to learn about how to do something about climate change. And yet, when a voice—this is amazing that a voice of dissent is raised, and the immediate response is to try to arrest people and to try to stop them from speaking. Look at me.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: There are a number of people who have just sat down in protest. And now, a person who was participating in the sit-in has been escorted out. The police have surrounded the area and are now blocking our shot, and trying to get—the journalists who are trying to take pictures and who are trying to film are being prevented from doing so.
PROTESTER 1: We wanted just to speak, and we do not have the right.
PROTESTER 2: They are making us leave. Impossible. We can’t speak.
SABINE CESSOU: I’m really so angry, I can’t tell you. I’m a French journalist. Basically, I haven’t seen that—you’ve seen me before, right? I haven’t seen that in my whole life. First time. First time I see that kind of [bleep] happening in France. I think it’s really preposterous—I don’t know what word to use. And these young kids, who came here just to engage a dialogue with the big companies who are not doing that good in environmental issues, were taken out by a police—I mean, huge police force, one by one. These are students, activists, old people, journalists. I think it’s—it’s like it’s telling a lot about what’s actually going on in this place. It’s a commercial fair. It’s everybody defending its brand, its image, its investments, and considering climate change as an opportunity for business and not an opportunity for opening up your mind and taking consciousness and taking conscience of what is really at stake.
PROTESTER 3: Laissez-moi ma Ventolin! Laissez-moi ma Ventolin!
HÃ‰LÃˆNE CHARRIER: Laissez-lui sa Ventolin! Laissez-lui sa Ventolin!
HANY MASSOUD: What were you saying?
HÃ‰LÃˆNE CHARRIER: Ventolin is a medicine for asthma. She was asking, "Let me take my Ventolin." If she dies, they will say, "We did not know." She shouted it: "Let me take my Ventolin." It’s a very well-known medicine for asthma.
HANY MASSOUD: You know her name, who she was?
HÃ‰LÃˆNE CHARRIER: No.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: What is your name?
HÃ‰LÃˆNE CHARRIER: HÃ©lÃ¨ne. HÃ©lÃ¨ne Charrier from organization ATTAC. Filmez-moi! HÃ©lÃ¨ne Charrier, ATTAC!
MATHIEU EISINGER: My name is Mathieu Eisinger. What’s strange today and what shocked me today is policemen grabbing people with camera. And, I mean, it’s really—yeah, it’s shocking. I mean, people can’t do that in a democracy. But there is an emergency state, and maybe they think they can do anything. So I guess—I mean, police in France is really—culturally, it’s not a good way to maintain order. They are violent. I mean, all the day they are violent. But usually, with journalists, they know how to do this. And now I guess that they don’t—they don’t care. I mean, they do whatever they want to do, because they know they have no judge in front of them, so they can act like this with journalists.
Here, you can see fancy things, beautiful presentation, nice chair, nice people, gentle—yeah, everybody is gentle. But the reality is not gentle. So, the reality—a guy was describing from India where he knows that Engie is working on a factory. I don’t know exactly the term, but yeah, the reality is not gentle. So, people are protesting here and saying the reality is not the way you see things here. Yeah, people don’t want to hear that voice.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Mathieu Eisinger, French writer and filmmaker, speaking after climate activists gathered at the Grand Palais, or Grand Palace, in Paris to protest the COP21 Solutions corporate expo on climate change. A number of protesters were evicted by security. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. We’re broadcasting live from Paris, France, from the U.N. summit.