Paris 2015

Will security overshadow Paris climate summit?


Security concerns and geopolitical tensions surrounding the Middle East look set to dominate the United Nations (UN) Conference on Climate Change in Paris starting on Monday but experts believe there is still a will to find an agreement on limiting harmful emissions.

Commonly known as COP 21 – or to give its full name, the 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – the event starts on Monday and lasts until December 11, will see over 130 heads of state and government from around the world gathered in Paris to discuss the threat posed by climate change and measures to combat it.

Environmental damage is not the only threat likely to be on the agenda, however. A series of terrorist attacks in Paris two weeks ago, carried out by members of the so-called Islamic State militant group, are also likely to make the event a tense meeting of nervous leaders worried about global geopolitical security and stability.

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A state of emergency was declared in Paris and Brussels following the attacks as a manhunt for further suspects continues. Capitals throughout Europe remain on high alert due to fears of a "serious and imminent" threat from terrorism as the conference goes ahead.

Security measures are seen during final preparations for the COP21, Paris Climate Conference site on November 26, 2015 in Le Bourget, France.
Patrick Aventurier/Getty Images

On the eve of the summit, French riot police fired tear gas at activists protesting as part of global climate demonstrations Sunday, NBC News reported. About 200 protesters, some wearing masks, fought with police on a street leading to the Place de la Republique, which has become a gathering place for Parisians since the terror attacks on November 13.

Demonstrators in France have been warned not to gather, however, and ahead of the conference a major protest march was cancelled. Large gatherings have been banned due to the state of emergency – which some protesters on Sunday likened to a police state.

Speaking after the clashes on Sunday, French President Francois Hollande said "everything will be done" to keep violent protesters away from the conference.

Described by its organizers as a "crucial" event, COP21 will see the world's leaders, scientists, pressure groups and UN agencies attempt to come to, "a new international agreement on the climate, applicable to all countries, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius."

Against this background, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve has tried to reassure those attending the summit, saying in a statement last week said that there would be maximum security at the event.

He called for a successful summit, a sentiment that was echoed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel who said the meeting could send a "wonderful signal against terror and war," according to Reuters last week.

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Seb Beloe, partner and head of Research at WHEB Asset Management which specializes in sustainability investments, told CNBC Thursday that the fact that 130 heads of state were planning on attending, despite the current security threat, spoke volumes.

"If ever there was an excuse for not attending I think that this would be the moment for it. But I think that the fact that all 130 heads of state are going means shows that this is considered to be a top priority for them and underlines how seriously they take the issue of climate change," he said.

However, several marches that were planned to coincide with COP21 have not been given the go-ahead, which was a shame, Beloe said, given that the public's reaction can pressure governments to come up with firm commitments to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

"The ability of the average of the average citizen to participate or set the tone for these talks has been taken away as marches have been banned, it's a shame," Beloe said.

High hopes

In preparation for COP21, countries have outlined what post-2020 climate actions they intend to take under a new international agreement, disclosing what is somewhat-awkwardly known as their "Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs)".

Martijn Wilder, a climate lawyer and partner on Baker & McKenzie's Global Environments group, told CNBC Friday that the effort put into these showed there was an appetite to reach a solid agreement on climate change.

"A lot of work has gone in, countries have been submitting their 'intended nationally determined contributions' (INDCs). Those INDCs represent the policy approach which countries propose, or will continue, to implement to mitigate against and adapt to global climate change. The text is well developed and we are now at the point where it is clear to see there is a desperate need to action climate change," he told CNBC.

"Security will be tight but there is an incredibly strong desire to get an outcome and this has been reinforced by the terrible events in Paris. There is a great need for solidarity now and to work towards a better future," he added.

- By CNBC's Holly Ellyatt, follow us on Twitter @HollyEllyatt. Follow us on Twitter: @CNBCWorld