Climate Express has set out to make sure a mass mobilisation is present in Paris, to keep the pressure on the negotiators and leaders during the climate conference. But can this form of collective movement really affect the outcome of the COP21? An interview with Laurien Spruyt from the campaign.
Green European Journal: How did Climate Express set about trying to raise awareness of COP21 and the civil society events surrounding it? What has the public response been to the actions you’ve managed to co-ordinate so far?
Laurien Spruyt: The response has been very good. Climate Express started a while ago with mobilisation for the COP21 in Paris and we have built a big network of organisations and partners. We now have around twenty organisations co-operating with us for mobilisation for the climate march in Paris, from big players like Greenpeace to an array of smaller ones. Alongside this, we have a promotion team that go to events with our partners – last summer we were present at a lot of festivals like Pukkelpop and Reggae Hill, which are quite big festivals in Belgium, where they talked to people and spread the word about Climate Express and the mobilisation for Paris. These are two pillars of our mobilisation methods. The other pillar is my responsibility – mobilising people that normally don’t come into contact with climate issues. We worked with the art and music sectors to organise a concert at Ancienne Belgique in Brussels, quite a large venue. We’re also building a sculpture of artwork in the Bronks. By doing these projects, we want involve people involved in these sectors and bring them into the context of our climate team to involve more people than the standard audience. We also organised a lot of biking events last spring in Brussels, Antwerp, Liege, and so on. It hit critical mass, a lot of people participated. We are very happy with how everybody is responding to the mobilisation methods. Over two years we have been working towards this. There was a lot of enthusiasm from the beginning and now Climate Express is present at so many events and in so many magazines. We are very happy. We already have approximately 5,000 subscriptions for the train and bike ride to Paris. We hope if everyone invites a friend the number will come to 10,000. We still think it’s possible, so we will put in a lot of effort in the coming weeks to motivate people to subscribe.
What does the action training you provide involve – what are you preparing people for?
We’ve held action training so far in Gent, Leuven, and Brussels. It’s to prepare people to participate in the actions before the negotiations – the Global Climate March on the 28th – 29th November, and the Climate Games from the 11th – 13th. The latter one will basically be mass acts of civil disobedience. In Gent we gave an overview of the legal rights of individuals, such as what you should do in case you are arrested and so on. Also, we learned methods for quick decision making and forming affinity groups. All these things are to prepare people for action. At the time of the training in Gent, we were working together with international partners, and our partners in France will provide us with the information about the legal system in France regarding your rights you have when arrested. But we hope that for individuals it won’t have to come to that!
Let’s discuss the message you want to convey. Why is it important for people to go to Paris for COP 21?
We want to build a strong climate movement in Belgium, and there is a very important moment to bring people together that share the same goals, engaged in fighting climate change and also people that are new and don’t know the climate movement issues. We will provide a lot of information on the buses and the trains to the COP21. First of all, Paris is very nearby to us. The president of Climate Express organised the train travel to Warsaw two years ago. We went with 700 Belgians to Warsaw in 2013 and it was an unexpected success, because after Copenhagen the climate movement was in a bit of a dip. After this train a lot people and organisations were really enthusiastic and motivated for climate action, and there was a lot of networking between the organisations, everybody was very enthusiastic to organise mobilisation for Paris. Even on the train people were saying, “let’s go by bike to Paris!”, and that’s when we started Climate Express. We really wanted to organise mobilisation to Paris as it’s close to Brussels, so very possible to do. Our ultimate goal is to build a strong climate movement. Paris is a very interesting moment to mobilise people for, because of its importance. 2015 is, according to climate scientists, the year we should start taking action against climate change to prevent irreversible and irreparable changes. This is why we want to take people to Paris – it’s our last chance! Additionally, we think it’s important that there’s a link between the ecological movements and the social justice movements. There are a lot of people involved, and we find this diversity very important in order to combat what the real problem is.
Why do you think mobilisation is so important for the outcome? Do you think it will help influence the outcome of the negotiations if these world leaders see all these people there, or do you think more needs to be done?
Both, actually. We think being there with a lot of people certainly will have an impact because they need to listen to the voice of the people. But we are not naïve, we don’t think our presence there will influence the whole climate agreement because it’s already being going on for so many years. What’s already on the table now is the two degrees warming, and it’s too much of a commitment. So we don’t think Paris is going to be the moment we will save the world, but we know it’s important to be there because it will have an influence but on a small level. It’s also important to get people involved to build a strong movement. The more people get involved the more influence we will have. If you look to history, you see that most of the big changes in society happen when a lot of people come to the streets and demand change. We believe this is the way it should go down for the climate change case as well.
What is your view of the media coverage of climate change and the upcoming COP?
That’s a difficult one. I think in general the media is not critical enough because we have a lot short term media focus – what happens today is already old news by tomorrow, so certainly in the case of climate change we need people to see the bigger picture. That’s one of the things that annoys me personally. In Belgium there’s been six years of negotiating, and we don’t have a climate agreement in Belgium itself, and it’s not putting things in perspective. Treating climate change like a small or insignificant issue when it’s actually a problem that threatens everyone, the world and biodiversity, is ridiculous. It’s really bad that it’s not a priority for politicians and I think in the media are not always critical enough, and won’t cover the damage that will occur if we don’t react to climate change.
Yes, we also believe the climate march in Paris will be the biggest one ever, and I personally I see more people getting involved and people are actually worried about the climate. I’m positive about the future. I’m not 100% positive about the climate negotiations in Paris but I’m positive about how the movement is evolving and the people that are involved, that’s also important to notice.
Building on that, what are your plans for after Paris? How do you plan to keep people mobilised? It is possible that the agreement that comes out of Paris will not go far enough, and will be quite a disappointment for quite a lot of people. If this is the case, how do Climate Express plan on keeping the mobilisation, momentum and morale up?
First of all, in our communications now we are putting focus on the movement and on all the great things that are already happening. We are trying not to communicate thoughts like, “come with us now, because if you don’t come, there will be a bad agreement and it’s our last chance to save the world”, because we think if we do this people will be disappointed for sure. We say: yes, it’s important to be there, but the focus is on building the movement in our communications team. That’s the first thing we’re doing to prevent disappointment. We are also planning to make it a great experience to go to Paris, so even if the outcome is not good, people will have a very good feeling by going there. Over the last two years, we’ve tried to mobilise as much as possible, but our communication wasn’t great. Our wishes to the policy-makers, like more sustainable energy, solidarity with the south, reduction of CO2 emissions, and power to the people and so on, weren’t put across amazingly. But now, with communication, there is also a focus on making the movement appealing, and next year we want put more focus on spreading awareness to people, but also we want to ask for people’s opinions. We are already building the artwork in Brussels theatre centre, the Bronks, and we ask people to send us their ‘climate wish’ for 2016, where we’ll read all these wishes and then we will see what people want to do against climate change and what, according to them, should happen. We want to involve the people that go with us to Paris in deciding what the next step will be. We want to make people think critically about what they want and what is possible. This is very important for us: to listen to the opinions of the people in the movement.