ISIS won't derail Paris climate talks

Story highlights

  • John Sutter: ISIS wants to spread fear; the Paris attacks resulted in cancellation of climate march
  • He says the attacks aren't likely to derail the vitally important climate conference, set for late this month

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(CNN)It's clear ISIS wants us to be afraid.

Witness the terrorist group's attempts to intimidate New York this week. The city's mayor says there's no credible threat of a terror attack on the city, but just the insinuation of one is enough to send chills down a person's spine.
    I'm in the process of slowly making my way to Paris for the much-anticipated U.N. climate summit there, which begins November 30 and is, in my view, the most important climate change negotiations the world has ever seen. The talks, which often are called "COP21," a reference to the 21st meeting of the Conference of Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, will continue, with many heads of state, including Barack Obama, set to be in attendance.
    "Of course #COP21 proceeds as planned" despite the terror attacks on Paris last Friday, which killed at least 129 people, Christiana Figueres, head of the UNFCCC, tweeted on Sunday. "Even more so now" that terror has struck.
    That resilience only goes so far, though. On Wednesday, the environmental group 350.org announced it was forced to cancel two massive public demonstrations that had been planned in Paris to coincide with the all-important climate summit. One event, the People's Climate March, had been planned for November 29, and was expected by organizers to draw some 200,000 people, which would have made it one of the biggest demonstrations in history for the end of fossil fuels.
    It's an unfortunate development, if an understandable one.
    A small sign that we're letting ISIS scare us.
    And it raises an important question: Is ISIS -- and the fear and terror it's wrought following attacks in France, Lebanon and over Egypt -- an unexpected and potentially credible threat to climate change action?
    It's certainly possible. The Paris talks were making some people nervous before the attacks, because they follow a series of failures for the international climate negotiations process. In countries from Denmark, where I happen to be at the moment, examining that country's progressive climate policies, to Peru, U.N. climate summits largely have failed to rally true, global support for a rapid transition away from the dirty fuels causing global warming.
    That public demonstrations now have been canceled is a huge blow to the talks.
    But will it really doom their chances of success?
    If anything, my hope is that the threat of ISIS will embolden world leaders and will engender a spirit of cooperation. As others have persuasively argued, continuing these talks, succeeding in the face of tragedy, is the "best response" possible.
    "The government can prohibit these demonstrations, but it cannot stop the mobilization and it won't prevent us strengthening the climate movement," Nicolas Haeringer, from 350.org, said in an e-mail. "Our voices will not be silenced."
    Indeed they won't. People from around the world -- from villagers fighting deforestation in Peru to people from distant coral atolls in the Pacific that could disappear if the talks aren't highly successful -- are still planning to be in Paris to insist upon action. I'm saddened masses of people won't be able to gather on the streets in Paris to show just how many people are demanding an end to the era of dirty fuels. But that does not mean the negotiations themselves are destined to fail.
    Perhaps we need to be looking for new ways -- both in other cities and online -- to help mobilize a truly global show of support for climate action.
    That would build on already-impressive momentum for these negotiations. The United States and China, the world's two biggest polluters, are pushing for strong cuts to carbon pollution. India appears to be playing along, too. And the United Kingdom just this week announced plans to phase out coal-fired power plants by 2025, with Energy Secretary Amber Rudd calling their continued use "perverse." There's growing consensus -- in the business world as well as in geeky government circles -- that the costs of burning dirty fuels like coal and oil are too great.
    It's entirely implausible ISIS was hoping to derail the U.N. climate negotiations by attacking Paris. But allowing the talks to continue, and ensuring they're successful, still would send a message to the terror group: The world is united against many threats to a peaceful and healthy future, and climate change is one of those.
    It's human nature to be scared.
    But we can't let our fears stand in the way of progress.