Good COP21, bad COP21: Paris’ alternative climate summit

‘Do not consider this a mock trial but a sneak preview of Exxon future,’ an environmental ist tells the crowd

Montreuil is a large suburb in eastern Paris where few tourists venture. It is predominantly working class. It is not very pretty, but has an edge, with many artists living here. Its politics are radical too, with green and communist mayors in recent years.

You can take it that few of the VIPs and senior politicians attending COP21 have bothered to take a trip across the city to Montreuil from Le Bourget.

For it is here that an impressive alternative event to the global climate change summit took place. With the support of the municipality, the People’s Climate Summit has taken over the main public space of Montreuil as well as all of the side streets and halls.

Hundreds of stalls meandered out from the centre; there are dozens of events, thousands of volunteers and many thousands of participants. It involved all the big environmental organisations as well as every imaginable fringe climate group imaginable.


Wandering through the fair yesterday, the atmosphere was decidedly upbeat. There was a huge mix of people, although the young predominated, with a strong alternative vibe.

It’s not complementary to COP21. It’s a direct challenge to it, saying it is not doing enough.

For these climate change campaigners the Montreuil event has allowed them make their case about the urgency and importance of the decisions to be made. To a certain extent it allows them vent their frustration at the (inevitable) disappointment that will accompany the final agreement at the other Paris event.

London-born Alexis Rowell of Coalition Climate 21 said environmental organisations had been working towards this event for a year. It is broken into three parts: a climate forum; a peasant's market; and a village that attempts to collect all alternative solutions to the global crises in climate change, the environment, economics and politics.

“COP21 is just a bunch of politicians sitting around the table who may or may not agree anything.

“The problem with Le Bourget is it is governments sitting around coming up with pledges. There is no binding treaty or no verification or no way of penalising anyone who won’t do what say they will do.”

At the corner of one street was a massive Statue of Liberty with acrid-looking smoke spewing from the raised torch. A comic troupe flung plastic out of a huge supermarket trolley.

In a nearby hall, prominent writers and environmentalists Naomi Klein and Bill McKinney were the prosecutors in a mock trial against oil company ExxonMobil, which allegedly suppressed information over many years about the true environmental impact of fossil fuels.

The trial is essentially a performance, but there are impressive witnesses, including a young woman from the Marshall Islands who reminds people the islands are only a metre above sea level.

Klein tells the crowd to huge applause: “What we are doing here is stepping in where courts have failed. We firmly believe that this is a preview, that the prosecution of Exxon will happen in real courts very soon. Do not consider this a mock trial but a sneak preview of Exxon’s future.”

Kate McNeely, a young artist and activist from New York, stands in front of the climate ribbon, a statue of a tree strewn with a rainbow-burst of ribbons. The idea behind it, she says, is that people write onto a ribbon the thing they love most that might be lost because of climate change.

“The magnitude of what we are dealing with I don’t believe can be solved by governments and by organisations inside Le Bourget.

“We need a complete system change to deal with not just climate change but with racism, sexism and class differentiation.

“I believe civil society will make that change. I believe gatherings like this village in Montreuil are the way forward.”

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times