While everyone focuses on the Paris attacks, the real threat to humanity is being ignored

Whether we pay attention to the issue or not, climate change will affect all of us. Paris in 2015 was supposed to be the scene of climate change reform – but now journalists are being barred

Lou Del Bello
Thursday 19 November 2015 17:12
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Climate change is a huge threat to world citizens - more dangerous to us all than terrorism
Climate change is a huge threat to world citizens - more dangerous to us all than terrorism

When you open a response to any application, be it a job, a university or in my case a request for a press pass at the coming UN climate talks in Paris, there is one word you don’t want to see - but look for in distress - as you skim through the message: ‘unfortunately’.

And there it was, the U word, thrashing in a second one year, nay many years of work on climate change and its implications for the world, all spent towards this one pivotal event.

The email read:

Unfortunately, we have passed the maximum number for media accreditation at COP 21 [...]. We had hoped to have some flexibility regarding increased media accreditation for COP 21; however, due to overwhelming demand and now facing tighter security in light of recent events, we are sorry to inform you that your application has been declined.

In a matter of seconds, my Facebook was buzzing with screengrabs of the same message, popping up over and over from friends who had been denied a pass. Hundreds if not over a thousand journalists received the same letter of rejection. Though we were all used to the notorious red tape of the UN, this felt like an unjustifiable crackdown on the press as a whole.

I was speechless but not entirely surprised, as after the Paris attacks I can’t say I hadn’t seen it coming.

In many ways the Conference of Parties (COP) is frivolous, like any other big meeting. There’s gossip, booze, flings, too many power naps. But this year it’s also the opportunity for the world to take a massive step forward in the fight against climate change. It’s when countries will come together again, as they have been doing for two decades, but this time with the intent of ratifying a legally binding agreement for global emission reductions, in a long overdue but serious attempt to curb global warming.

It’s an historical moment that I would have loved to witness as a journalist, but also as a human.

I didn’t admit it even to myself but on Friday night, amid the pain and terror, I also felt a pang of discomfort for the impact that the Paris attacks would have on the climate talks. And it was something beyond my little part in the media circus.

I felt that people deserved to hear what the world’s leaders had to say and would promise, they deserved the chance to think more, and know better, because a hotter planet doesn’t kill you that fast but it does kill nonetheless.

Climate change is still a geeky subject. I see it in the sneering faces of my friends, who don’t find it ‘engaging’, or who are just plain bored when I talk about it. I can’t blame them; it’s such an elusive beast.

This year, though, the time felt right to change that. We would bring everyone together, not just politicians and scientists, but also the civil society. The outcome of this conference would have a transformative impact on our everyday lives, prompting us to change the way we move, we use energy, we build our homes, even what we eat. I was ready to show to my friends why this is a battle worth fighting, and how in Paris we would make history.

But someone decided that in 2015, Paris would be remembered for a different reason. As I watched the news, I realised how powerfully divisive terrorism can be. I could sense it in the rumours of fires in the Calais refugee camps. They spread fast because they were plausible, though untrue. Whoever came up with - and tweeted - the story first, captured the spirit of the attacks so well you needed to read no further to imagine what would happen next.

Once again, we are divided on the grounds of culture while we should be united in a battle that, contrary to an armed war against terrorism, cannot be avoided. Even if we choose to ignore it.

Shutting out the press from COP21 means that more people will be left oblivious to the threat of climate change, less people will realise the urgency of getting together are a species rather than as a coalition of countries. The negotiations themselves will lose momentum and impact. What a missed opportunity.

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