COP21 blog

Despite the climate talks, French media are still focused on terrorism

French papers have a range of views on COP21, but even more views about terrorism. Cathy Alexander, Author provided

France was prepared to be on the world stage in late 2015. But not like this.

As the Paris climate summit reached its halfway mark on Saturday, the local media was still largely preoccupied with the terrorist attacks of 13 November. 130 people were murdered in the worst attacks on French soil since World War II; France remains in a state of emergency and is essentially at war with Daesh. While people go about their business, filling bars and restaurants and Metro stations, these attacks have deeply shaken France. One result is that the United Nations climate summit has been somewhat pushed to the side in the media.

The media did focus heavily on the opening of the COP21 climate summit a week ago, particularly on the world leaders who spoke. There was a hint of “French pride”, perhaps a post-imperial hankering, in being the centre of such an important global meeting. Media coverage has since tailed off and stories now sit in the middle of the newspaper, behind many stories about terrorism and militant Islam, and behind extensive coverage of France’s regional elections, which happen today (Sunday local time). In the wake of the Paris attacks, the right-wing, anti-immigration Front National is polling very highly, panicking the mainstream left and right alike.

One striking feature of the French media coverage of the COP21 summit is the consensus that human-induced climate change is real; scepticism about this is barely even covered. Similarly, there is no real debate around France’s climate change policies or emissions targets. Opposition parties are not criticising the government’s climate policies. The general theme is that the issue is settled; climate change is real, and the next challenge is to land a global deal to sort it out by the time the summit finishes on December 11. (France has relatively low greenhouse gas emissions because 78% of its electricity comes from nuclear power, which might help explain why the issue doesn’t seem politicised.)

Here is what four French newspapers said about the COP21 summit in their editions for Saturday December 5.

Le Figaro

This is a right-leaning daily (the Saturday paper costs a cool A$7.30). The paper points to the problems around the two rival draft climate change agreements being debated at COP21, and concludes “the negotiations seem to have got off to a very bad start”. Stories quote French government ministers saying progress so far has been insufficient. Finance (how richer countries will help fund poorer countries to develop in a low-emission way) is a particular problem, as is the issue of how these funds will actually be transferred. Progress has been made on adapting to climate change, and there’s agreement that countries’ emissions targets will be reviewed every five years (although there’s disagreement on when reviews would start). “Advances have been very limited,” is how Le Figaro summed up the first week of the negotiations.

Le Monde

The left-wing Le Monde says there have been some good discussions at COP21, including on the agreement’s long-term goal on climate change. Options for this include a carbon peak at a date still to be determined, a goal of zero emissions, or a principle of carbon neutrality (this will be a major issue in the coming week). Finance for poorer countries is a critical issue at this point. Negotiations have been running very late at night – the paper refers to “nuit blanche” (white night).

The summit is summed up like this: “For the moment, it’s about above everything finding spaces of compromise in very restricted times.”

Le Monde says a major public march on climate change scheduled for December 12, the day after the summit finishes, may go ahead (an earlier march was cancelled for security reasons).

In its culture section, Le Monde has an interesting story called “The environment, I think of it then I forget”, which asks why people are not very active on climate change despite the risk of a global ecological catastrophe. The article suggests this passivity is because climate change is a difficult and complex subject, an enormous problem, and people feel powerless.

Le Parisien

This is a popular, centrist paper in a tabloid format. It likens COP21’s progress to a snail, a “casse-tete” (a head puzzle) and a poker game in which negotiators posture and keep their cards close to their chest.

“There are still numerous tensions … a deal is a long way away,” the paper says. The biggest problem is that poorer countries are not happy with what rich countries have offered on climate finance; plus there are deep concerns about how countries’ emissions promises will be independently monitored to stop cheating.

Le Parisien contains plenty of practical tips for people to reduce their emissions, and notes that train tickets show the carbon footprint of the journey. It has a story on nuclear power which says there’s a growing push for France to move away from nuclear towards renewable energy. But the paper warns that without big drops in electricity use this “energy revolution” would be “long and complex” – and expensive for consumers. It claims wind and solar power cost more per unit of electricity than nuclear power (although this may refer to existing sources rather than new-build).

In a sign of how serious the risk of terrorist attacks is being taken, the paper has a story on this new government guide to what to do in the event of an attack: flee, and if that’s not possible, barricade yourself away or hide behind a solid object. Put your mobile phone on silent.

There’s room for lighter stories in Le Parisien: the national cup for table football (“baby-foot”) is happening this weekend, and entry is free. Also an enigmatic gentleman is selling his collection of meteorites.

Charlie Hebdo

This is a far-left satirical weekly newspaper which became well known when 12 of its staff were murdered by terrorists in Paris earlier this year, apparently for publishing cartoons about the prophet Muhammad.

Perhaps surprisingly, it argues strongly against the dominance of terrorism-related coverage in the French media. In an editorial called “AK47 versus COP21”, the paper argues the media is obsessing about terrorism – “horrors” and “nightmares” – to sell papers, while brushing aside important issues like climate change.

“Terrorists are much stronger than climate change,” the editorial says. “We don’t care about the climate because the terrorists kill us faster than swarms of Asian insects.”

Amid some unreproducible cartoons and headlines, Charlie Hebdo strongly criticises France’s climate policies as inadequate, unlike the mainstream media. One article claims France doesn’t declare half its emissions because goods are made overseas and imported (under UN rules, emissions are counted at the point of source, not based on where the product is consumed). France pretends to be virtuous on climate change but that’s based on lies, the paper claims.

The COP21 summit is an “immense pantomime”, according to Charlie Hebdo. People who really understand the issue know that COP21 will be a failure, but this will be hidden as President Francois Hollande rides high in the polls. “Have confidence in the PR: it will be a triumph,” the paper concludes.

This post was originally published on the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute’s COP21 blog.

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