A mild December arrived in Paris, but one wouldn’t know that Christmas is just around the corner. The tension from the attacks is slowly dissipating; the city is no longer crawling with policemen, the headlines are moving on, and people are taking the metro to work and going out to bars and restaurants because, at the end of the day, what else can one do? One of the bars that was hit, La Bonne Bière, has already reopened, and its terrace is packed every evening with those drinking in solidarity.
Nonetheless, some changes are palpable. French flags have sprung up outside of shops and are flying from apartment windows, a practice formerly banned in France. I haven’t helped but notice that in my multiethnic neighbourhood, it is the Muslim-owned shops with the French flag displayed prominently (which I interpret partly as an attempt to ward off rising anti-Muslim sentiment), and the Chinese-owned shops, recognizing a new business opportunity, that are selling them. Airport and train security has noticeably been stepped up, with extra name and ticket checks just before boarding. Police crackdowns under the “state of emergency” have been disproportionately aggressive, as demonstrated by the arrests of scores of climate activists, and by the use of batons and teargas against unarmed anti-COP21 protesters.
I have been past most of the sites of the attacks now. They feel eerie – places of happiness transformed into silent shrines, strewn with flowers, candles, photos, letters. Although whoever had the unenviable task of cleaning up after the events did a good job, there is still no mistaking what happened here; bullet holes pierce the windows, and the pavement remains a rusty brown colour. Curious people linger, reflect, weep, take photos. Le Monde is publishing the story of one of the victims every day – not of how they died, but of how they lived. The mourning process is not finished – but it cannot last forever. Le Petit Cambodge and Le Carillon aim to open in January, Le Bataclan later in 2016. People are nevertheless braced for the fact that this could happen again – no amount of security rhetoric from the government will convince the French people that they can still take their safety for granted.
Despite the events of November 13, Paris picked itself back up to host the most important climate conference in history – the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (or, to avoid that mouthful, COP21). Over the first two weeks of December, over 50,000 thousand people from governments, research institutions, NGOs and international organisations descended upon the city in an attempt to set the world on a low-emissions path that will enable us to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, and adapt to those that are already unavoidable. On the opening day of the conference, over 150 heads of state arrived in Paris to give the kick-off some weight. Roads were closed, helicopters buzzed overhead, and Parisians were encouraged to work from home, creating a simultaneous sensation of excitement and unease. Once the ambitious declarations had been made, partnerships announced, funding pledged and photo opportunities exploited, the leaders flew home and the negotiators got down to work.
The French pulled off both the logistical challenge of catering for the every need of participants and the diplomatic challenge of facilitating a deal. Transport was smooth, coffee plentiful, nap rooms available for exhausted negotiators to recover from all-nighters. Space was ample for all participants to share their message, from the smallest of NGO stands to large, dazzling country pavilions. The air was thick with tension, hope, energy, suspense. The negotiations got off to a slow start, with countries initially sticking to their traditional antagonisticpositions. But as the two weeks unfolded, the pressure from civil society, from other leaders, from scientists, from the media, left no room for failure. New, unexpected coalitions emerged. Compromises were accepted. Last minute calls between ministers and heads of state were made. On the evening of Saturday 12 December, almost exactly a month after terrorists had marked a dark day in Paris’ history, 196 countries signed the breakthrough “Paris agreement”, a global climate deal that, while not perfect, is far more ambitious than many realists had ever dreamed.
And then it was over. The 50,000 COP participants left again, the hotels and restaurants around Gare du Nord counted their windfall earnings, and the city breathed a sigh of relief.