PARIS/PERTH, Australia (Reuters) - More than half a million people from Australia to Paraguay joined the biggest day of climate change activism in history on Sunday, telling world leaders gathering for a summit in Paris there is “No Planet B” in the fight against global warming.
In the French capital, where demonstrations were banned by the authorities after attacks by Islamic State militants killed 130 people on Nov. 13, activists laid out more than 20,000 shoes in the Place de la Republique to symbolize absent marchers on the eve of the summit.
Among the high heels and sandals were a pair of plain black shoes sent by Pope Francis, who has been a vocal advocate for action to prevent dangerous climate change, and jogging shoes from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
One activist, dressed in white as an angel with large wings, held a sign saying “coal kills”. About 10,000 people joined arms to form a human chain through Paris along the 3-km (2-mile) route of the banned march, organizers said.
French police detained scores of protesters after violent clashes in central Paris on Sunday though, a day before the official start of conference that aims to tackle global warming.
Riot police used tear gas to disperse about 200 protesters, some of them masked, who responded by hurling rocks and even candles. French President Francois Hollande accused the violent protesters of dishonoring the memory of the dead.
The U.N. climate change conference is taking place at Le Bourget just outside Paris. Initial talks among negotiators began on Sunday.
More than 2,000 events were held in cities including London, Sao Paulo, New York and Asuncion, Paraguay, on the eve of the Paris summit which runs from Nov. 30-Dec. 11 and will be attended by about 150 heads of government.
About 683,000 people attended the rallies around the world, said Sam Barrat, a spokesman for Avaaz, one of the organizers.
“And this was done even without Paris,” after the March there was banned, he said,
Around the world, activists marched, dressed as polar bears or penguins at risk from melting ice, or chanted slogans such as “climate justice”.
Organizers said that 570,000 people so far had taken part in rallies worldwide and that they expected demonstrations including in Ottawa and Mexico City later in the day to push the count above 600,000.
“These are the biggest set of global marches in history,” said Sam Barratt at Avaaz.
There was no independent verification of the numbers, although none of the individual marches rivaled one in New York last year that drew an estimated 310,000 people.
In Sydney, about 45,000 people are estimated to have marched through the central business district toward the Opera House. Protesters held placards reading: “There is no Planet B,” and “Say no to burning national forests for electricity”.
In London, organizers said 50,000 marchers were joined by fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, actress Emma Thompson and opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who said the turnout was especially impressive for a wet November Sunday.
In New York, hundreds of people, many of them holding signs calling for aggressive measures to stop global warming, marched around the perimeter of New York City Hall in lower Manhattan.
U.S. President Barack Obama and China’s Xi Jinping will be among the leaders attending the start of the summit, which organizers hope will produce a legally binding agreement to commit both rich and developing nations to curbing emissions of greenhouse gases, blamed for warming the planet, beyond 2020.
Hopes are high that the Paris summit will not fail like the previous such meeting six years ago in Copenhagen.
Popular and political momentum for tougher action on carbon emissions has accelerated in recent years, with 2015 set to be the warmest on record. Activists are seeking to combat everything from Beijing’s smoggy skies to Canada’s Keystone oil pipeline.
Saiba Suso, a 26-year-old demonstrator in Paris, said the poor were most at risk: “We are paying the price and we are not the cause. The industrialized countries owe us a lot.”
Still, all sides say pledges made in Paris will be insufficient to limit a rise in global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, widely viewed as a threshold for dangerous changes in the planet’s climate system.
Additional reporting by Michael Shields in Vienna, Elizabeth Piper in London, Gareth Jones and Paul Taylor in Paris, Elizabeth Piper in London, Morag MacKinnon in Perth, writing by Alister Doyle; Editing by Janet Lawrence, Hugh Lawson and Clive McKeef