65,000 march for climate in Brussels

Summary

Three times the number of people expected marched in favour of a national climate policy yesterday on the eve of the COP24 summit in Poland

‘Step by step’

Belgium’s biggest ever climate march saw some 65,000 people brave the Brussels wind and rain on Sunday – three times more than expected. Police had been prepared for between 20,000 and 25,000 people to attend the Claim the Climate march, which ran from North Station to Jubelpark.

“This is overwhelming and historical,” siad Charlotte Scheerens of Climate Express, one of the three organisers of the march. “We are enoumously pleased because this gives us so much hope for the future. It shows that there is a massive support for an ambitious climate policy in Belgium. It’s a incredibly strong signal that politicians can no longer ignore.”

Sunday’s march, which passed without any major incident, came on the eve of the COP24 UN climate summit in Poland, where representatives from 200 countries will discuss topics related to global warming. Belgium is sending a delegatie to the summit, led by federal environment minister Marie-Christine Marghem (MR).

“The main message is to say: our ministers must now act,” said Ncolas Van Nuffel of the National Center for Development Co-operation. “They must take decisions and set a course to respect the Paris Agreement. We have to stay under a 1.5°C temperature increase, and that means reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by more than half by 2030. We now expect our prime minister to act.”

No national plan

Belgium has four environment ministers – one for each region and at the national level. But at this point it has no national policy to reach the 2030 goals.

“We are all feeling the effects of climate change,” said Samuel Lietaer of Climate Express. “In our cities we are suffering from dirty air. Every year we spend millions of euros compensating farmers for damage caused by drought. We have been waiting for a national climate paln since 2012. We demand more ambition from Belgian decision-makers.”

Although organisers have criticised minister Marghem, she took part in the march, telling VRT: “I need to do better, but this message is also meant for my colleagues. Unfortunately, Flanders puts on the brakes every time we try to be ambitious, I have to say.”

People want to see everything change overnight, but that’s not realistic. We are doing it step by step and have seen results

- Flemish environment minister Joke Schauvliege

Flemish environment minister Joke Schauvliege took to the Sunday news programme De Zevende Dag to defend the region’s work on climate change policy. “Flanders has a climate policy on the table where we suggest a number of measures to be taken,” she said. “We are going to just make our climate goals for 2020. But yes, as we approach 2030, we are going to need to take further measures. That’s why we have created a climate policy plan.”

She went on to point out that never has more money been invested in new technologies to fight climate change than in this Flemish administration. “People are demanding a revolution; they want to see everything change overnight,” she said. “But that’s not realistic. We are doing it step by step, but we have seen results.”

Belgium is considering a bid to host the COP26 climate summit at the end of 2020, after Switzerland withdrew its candidacy. The summit would bring 20,000 participants to the country over three weeks.

Photo: Nicolas Maeterlinck/BELGA