PARIS — Hundreds of thousands of people took part in rallies around the world Sunday, calling on leaders to halt climate change on the eve of a major environmental summit in Paris.
The nearly two-week conference comes more than two weeks after the Paris terrorist attacks. A state of emergency was imposed in France after the carnage, and marches have been banned.
But violence erupted Sunday between French riot police and a group of several hundred at a major square in Paris that was the site of a peaceful demonstration earlier. Police fired tear gas to disperse protesters throwing projectiles.
France’s interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, said 174 protesters are facing possible charges after clashing with riot police on the eve of the conference. He said a total of 208 people were arrested after the clashes, but some were later released.
President Francois Hollande of France said the violence was “scandalous” both because the clashes were caused by “disruptive elements” that have nothing to do with environmental defenders and because they occurred at Place de la Republique, which has been a memorial square for the 130 victims of the Nov. 13 Paris massacre.
An organizer of the global rallies, Avaaz, said early estimates of marchers around the globe show 570,000 people marched in 175 countries. A known environmental group, 350.org, said the protesters were unaffiliated with the climate movement and broke “the nonviolent pledge that every group involved in the climate coalition” signed off on.
More than 140 world leaders at the summit, including President Obama and President Xi Jinping of China, are hoping to reach the first truly global deal to cut greenhouse gases. A key goal is a long-term framework for more emissions reductions, with each nation setting targets that other countries can verify.
So far, the United Nations has gathered pledges from 177 of the 195 countries involved to reduce emissions, but what the quantifiable targets will be is unclear.
As he left for the climate conference, Obama said American leadership is helping the global fight against climate change. He wrote on Facebook that the United States has shown it is possible to make environmental gains while creating jobs and expanding the economy.
Obama will try to reassure world leaders in Paris that the United States can deliver on its own commitments. He also said leaders will try to support “the most vulnerable countries” in expanding clean energy and “adapting to the effects of climate changes that we can no longer avoid.”
After his arrival in Paris, Obama paid a late-night visit to the Bataclan concert hall, the site of one of the terror attacks. Hollande and the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, joined Obama. Each placed a single flower at a makeshift memorial, and Obama bowed his head in silence.
Bill Gates, the cofounder of Microsoft, and fellow philanthropists will unveil Monday a multibillion-dollar fund to develop new clean-energy technology, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The effort, described as the biggest clean-energy research commitment in history, is intended to boost the Paris climate change talks, said Jake Schmidt, international program director at the New York-based environmental council.
Gates and other philanthropists are committing their own money to support new research and development, Schmidt said. They will collaborate with government research programs in the United States and other countries.
The demonstrators who gathered in Paris formed a human chain along the route of a long-planned protest march that was banned by the government. Paris police chief Michel Cadot said protesters lobbed glass bottles and other projectiles, including candles set out in homage to the victims of the extremist attacks.
In Spain on Sunday, thousands of people took to the streets of several cities to demand a commitment from world leaders to halt climate change.
Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace both said around 20,000 protesters marched between Cibeles and Puerta del Sol in Madrid, while thousands also marched in Barcelona, Bilbao, Las Palmas, Murcia, Pamplona, Seville, Valladolid, and Zaragoza.
At the Madrid rally, one banner read, “I am marching for my children and grandchildren” and another said, “We don’t have a planet B.”
“Well, to be honest we don’t expect much [from the politicians]. That’s why we are here,” Incarnacion Florin said. “We have to do something. It must make a difference.”
In London, thousands of people marched from Hyde Park to the Whitehall government district, urging world leaders not to blow their chance to take strong action on climate change. Actress Emma Thompson, designer Vivienne Westwood, and Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn were among demonstrators urging politicians to strike a binding agreement in Paris.
About 4,000 people held a rally in the German capital, marching from Berlin’s train station to the Brandenburg Gate to listen to speeches and music.