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Commentary: After Paris attacks, the climate conference must go on

DW's Sonya Diehn hopes that the Paris attacks won't push down popular movements to build momentum toward a strong climate change treaty, to be negotiated in Paris at the end of November.

In a few short weeks, people from around the world will gather in Paris to try and hammer out a framework for tackling climate change.

The COP21 climate summit is being billed as the last, best chance for world leaders to come up with an effective treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol of 1997.

And certainly, momentum has been building: key political leaders have signaled they're more willing than ever to try and reach a strong agreement.

Businesses are taking concrete steps to reduce their carbon footprint, while ever more institutions have been divesting from fossil fuels.

And on November 29 - the day before the negotiations start - people across the globe are set to take to the streets in an unprecedented day of action over climate change.

Sonya Angelica Diehn at DW in Bonn

Sonya Diehn heads DW's environment desk

As many as a million people were expected to march in the French capital to demand climate action.

But the Paris attacks have changed everything.

On Monday, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said that "without a doubt," concerts and other gatherings of a "festive" nature would be canceled.

World leaders will not be deterred from the negotiations: US Secretary of State John Kerry stated Tuesday that the climate talks in Paris would not be impacted by "despicable, cowardly acts of terror."

But on Wednesday, French authorities withdrew authorization for the largest planned public demonstrations, planned for November 29 and December 12.

High stakes

The stakes for an effective agreement could not be higher.

Last week, Britain's Met Office said that global temperature increase is likely to hit the 1-degree mark in 2015 - halfway to the 2-degree (Celsius) warming limit scientists agree would result in dangerous impacts.

Meanwhile, a report by the World Meteorological Organization said that greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere reached a record high in 2014.

Considering the emissions gap - that is, the amount of greenhouse gases projected versus how much the world will need to reduce to prevent the 2-degree temperature rise - our time window is closing.

In that context, I will say it again: We cannot allow the terrorists to win.

The negotiations should by no means be postponed. And that, at least, is not looking likely.

But even canceling public demonstrations would result in the kind of society "Islamic State" is seeking to establish.

Granted, providing security for a million civilians would be a logistical nightmare.

In terms of protecting people versus allowing grassroots expression, it's a difficult equation.

That the balance appears to have tilted against allowing the public to express itself en masse is a tremendous disappointment.

Because if the Paris attacks are allowed to dampen momentum toward the climate summit, the terrorists will have succeeded.

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