French climate activists in sit-in protest denounce ‘republic of polluters’

Hundreds of French activists on Friday staged a sit-in outside top energy companies in Paris, describing France as the "republic of polluters", as part of a international civil disobedience campaign on climate change.

French climate activists in sit-in protest denounce 'republic of polluters'
Photos: AFP

Some two thousand environmental activists in total assembled at the La Defense business district in a bid to block access to to the headquarters of energy giant Total, electricity firm EDF as well as bank Societe Generale and France's Ministry for Ecological Transition.

Protestors rallied around the slogan, “Block the Republic of Polluters” and held banners bearing the face of President Emmanuel Macron and the message, “Macron, President of polluters”.

Some lay on the ground, in what they said was an action symbolising a “climate crime scene”.

The demonstration, a joint initiative of ANV-COP21, Greenpeace and Les Amis de la Terre, comes at the end of the “International Week of Rebellion” launched by Extinction Rebellion, the climate change pressure group using civil disobedience to demand action over climate change from politicians and governments worldwide.

Clement Senechal of Greenpeace, told AFP that the protest outside Total was symbolic as the company was the “factory of climate change”.

The French multinational ranks among the world's top 20 CO2-emitting companies.

“We have come out to denounce the policy of Macron and show that politics in France happens here and not at the ministry,” Cecile Marchand, of Les Amis de la Terre, told the crowd.

But in a message on Twitter, France's minister for ecological transition Francois de Rugy said the activists had “got the enemy wrong… we are acting!”

Total CEO Patrick Pouyanne meanwhile defended the strategy of the energy giant saying the main demand of the population was to have “access to more energy, affordable energy and that this energy is clean”.

A window was broken at the Societe Generale tower and tear gas cannisters were briefly deployed by police taking up positions inside the building, according to an AFP photographer.

Their action came after climate change activists brought parts of London to a standstill in a week of demonstrations that have so far led to more than 400 arrests.

Paris was in 2015 the venue for the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) which forged a historic agreement on limiting climate change. However activists doubt the commitments will be met.

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Scorching summer was France’s second hottest on record

Three heatwaves since June produced France's second-hottest summer since records began in 1900, the Météo France weather service said on Tuesday, warning that scorching temperatures will be increasingly common as the climate crisis intensifies.

Scorching summer was France's second hottest on record

With 33 days of extreme heat overall, average temperatures for June, July and August were 2.3C above normal for the period of 1991-2020.

It was surpassed only by the 2003 heatwave that caught much of France unprepared for prolonged scorching conditions, leading to nearly 15,000 heat-related deaths, mainly among the elderly.

Data is not yet available for heat-related deaths this summer, but it is likely to be significantly lower than 15,000 thanks to preventative measures taken by local and national authorities. 

Most experts attribute the rising temperatures to the climate crisis, with Météo France noting that over the past eight summers in France, six have been among the 10-hottest ever.

By 2050, “we expect that around half of summer seasons will be at comparable temperatures, if not higher,” even if greenhouse gas emissions are contained, the agency’s research director Samuel Morin said at a press conference.

The heat helped drive a series of wildfires across France this summer, in particular a huge blaze in the southwest that burned for more than a month and blackened 20,000 hectares. 

Unusually, wildfires also broke out even in the normally cooler north of the country, and in total an area five times the size of Paris burned over the summer. 

Adding to the misery was a record drought that required widespread limits on water use, with July the driest month since 1961 – many areas still have water restrictions in place.

MAP: Where in France are there water restrictions and what do they mean?

Forecasters have also warned that autumn storms around the Mediterranean – a regular event as air temperatures cool – will be unusually intense this year because of the very high summer temperatures. A storm that hit the island of Corsica in mid August claimed six lives. 

“The summer we’ve just been through is a powerful call to order,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said on Monday, laying out her priorities for an “ecological planning” programme to guide France’s efforts against climate change.