More than half a million people from Australia to Paraguay joined the biggest day of climate change activism in history on Sunday, telling world leaders gathering for a summit in Paris there is “No Planet B” in the fight against global warming.
In the French capital -- where demonstrations were banned by the authorities after attacks by Islamic State militants and hundreds of protesters were detained after clashes with the police -- activists laid out more than 20,000 shoes in the Place de la Republique to symbolise absent marchers on the eve of the summit.
Among the high heels and sandals were a pair of plain black shoes sent by Pope Francis, who has been a vocal advocate for action to prevent dangerous climate change, and jogging shoes from UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon.
One activist, dressed in white as an angel with large wings, held a sign saying “coal kills”. About 10,000 people joined arms to form a human chain through Paris along the 3km (2-mile) route of the banned march, organisers said.
French police detained scores of protesters after violent clashes in central Paris on Sunday, a day before the official start of conference that aims to tackle global warming.
Riot police used tear gas to disperse about 200 protesters, some of them masked, who responded by hurling rocks and even candles. French President Francois Hollande accused the violent protesters of dishonouring the memory of the dead.
The UN climate change conference is taking place at Le Bourget just outside Paris.
Protests around the world
More than 2,000 events were held in cities including London, Sao Paulo, New York and Asuncion, Paraguay, on the eve of the Paris summit which runs from November 30-December 11 and will be attended by about 150 heads of government.
About 683,000 people attended the rallies around the world, said Sam Barrat, spokesperson for Avaaz, one of the organisers.
“And this was done even without Paris,” after the march was banned, he said,
Around the world, activists marched, dressed as polar bears or penguins at risk from melting ice or chanted slogans such as “climate justice”.
Organisers said that 570,000 people so far had taken part in rallies worldwide and that they expected demonstrations -- including in Ottawa and Mexico City later in the day -- to push the count above 600,000.
“These are the biggest set of global marches in history,” said Sam Barratt at Avaaz.
There was no independent verification of the numbers, although none of the individual marches rivalled one in New York last year that drew an estimated 310,000 people.
In Sydney, about 45,000 people are estimated to have marched through the central business district towards the Opera House. Protesters held placards reading: “There is no Planet B” and “Say no to burning national forests for electricity”.
In London, organisers said 50,000 marchers were joined by fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, actress Emma Thompson and opposition Britain’s Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who said the turnout was especially impressive for a wet November Sunday.
In New York, hundreds of people, many of them holding signs calling for aggressive measures to stop global warming, marched around the perimeter of New York City Hall in lower Manhattan.
Hopes are high that the Paris summit will not fail like the previous such meeting six years ago in Copenhagen.
Popular and political momentum for tougher action on carbon emissions has accelerated in recent years, with 2015 set to be the warmest on record. Activists are seeking to combat everything from Beijing’s smoggy skies to Canada’s Keystone oil pipeline.
Saiba Suso, a 26-year-old demonstrator in Paris, said the poor were most at risk: “We are paying the price and we are not the cause. The industrialised countries owe us a lot.”
Still, all sides say pledges made in Paris will be insufficient to limit a rise in global temperatures to 2 degrees celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, widely viewed as a threshold for dangerous changes in the planet’s climate system.
(Wit inputs from AFP)