25th Mar 2017

Climate activists shut down European business conference

  • Climate Alarm activists hang a banner outside the Charlemagne building (Photo: Leigh Phillips)

British-style "climate camp" activists shut down the annual conference of the Confederation of European Business in Brussels on Wednesday (28 October) morning, occupying and blockading the European Commission building where industrialists were due to talk about global warming.

The new group, Climate Alarm, accused the EU executive of getting into bed with the businesses sponsoring the conference, which include Shell, Daimler and Arcelor-Mittal, companies it says are some of the worst carbon emitters in the world.

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"Corporate lobbyists have no role to play in deciding how to deal with the climate crisis," said spokeswoman Anna Martin.

"[These firms] all lobby hard to obstruct strong action on climate change ... At the same time, they have made windfall profits from a failing carbon market."

A few dozen youthful campaigners from the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany swooped into the commission's Charlemagne building a few minutes before 9.00 am local time. EU officials had lent the building to the employers' group, also known as Business Europe, for free for the duration of the conference.

Some protesters chained the entrance closed while others deliberately trapped themselves inside the large glass revolving doors by jamming wooden door stops into its base, preventing any delegates from entering.

"This is the second time the European Commission has hosted Business Europe's annual conference. It shows how close the EU institutions are to business when it comes to climate change," Ms Martin told EUobserver.

Such radical direct action has been on the increase over the last couple of years in the UK, where activists have occupied or tried to disrupt two coal-fired power stations and stop the extension of Heathrow airport. In April this year, activists blocked streets in London's financial district to protest the EU emissions trading scheme.

But the blockade on Wednesday, which lasted two hours before police used pepper spray to disperse some of the activists and arrested 20, was the first time climate campers had taken such action in the European capital.

Ms Martin warned that closer to the UN climate conference in Copenhagen in December, there will be more and more of this sort of activity.

"We will see some very strong actions in Copenhagen. In terms of international attention, Copenhagen will easily match Seattle," she said, referring to the demonstrations that shut down the World Trade Organisation almost ten years ago, the protest that saw the birth of the anti-globalisation movement.

The major environmental NGOs and development groups in Brussels regularly engage in showpiece stunts outside the EU buildings. On the same day, in an Oxfam action, hundreds of miniature tents were set up in Brussels Central Station as well as in London, Berlin, Dublin and Madrid to symbolise the plight of climate refugees, while Action Aid campaigners are to "hammer" on the doors of the European Summit of premiers and presidents on Thursday.

The events are almost always carefully co-ordinated with police and building security. But the Climate Alarm action was not authorised by the Brussels police, which the campaigners believe is why the police took the unusual step of using pepper spray.

The activists, who formed the new organisation at a climate camp on the Belgian-Dutch border this summer, are linked to Climate Justice Action (CJA), a wider global network of groups with a strong presence from NGOs in the developing world, which say that emissions reductions targets do not match what scientists are demanding and that the range of climate solutions on offer actually exacerbates global warming and only benefits business.

Emissions trading, carbon capture and storage, carbon offsets, biofuels and nuclear power - embraced by the EU and to a lesser degree by some of the more mainstream green outfits as the main strategies to tackle climate change - have been denounced by CJA as "false solutions".

They also say that industrialised countries owe an "environmental debt" to developing countries for creating the climate crisis.

'Climate change is everyone's business'

The action managed to prevent a crowd of some 200 delegates from entering the building. Hans Korteweg, a senior manager with Foratom, the European Atomic Forum, told this website: "One of their banners says: 'Our climate is not your business,' but climate is everyone's business, including business."

"Business absolutely has a role to play - we have the solutions available, the technology we can transfer and the money to invest," he added. "They should come into the meeting and debate, not shut it down."

Enzo Gatta, the industrial affairs committee chairman of Business Europe was furious: "It's just unbelievable. I really don't understand this. We have enormous amounts of money to invest."

"It's not about lobbying. There is already worldwide acceptance that emissions must be reduced. There is no serious debate on this anymore. Now it is just a question of co-ordination. That is what is being discussed."

A bemused researcher on energy and transport from Italy's National Research Council, who was also stuck outside, was more relaxed about the situation. Leaning against his luggage and pulling out a packet of cigarettes, Vincenzo Antonucci said the activists had a point.

"It's difficult. On the one hand, what they are saying is true about the likes of Shell and Daimler, of course. This is a correct point of view. But on the other hand, even inside these companies, there are a few, some who are serious about climate change."

"And green energy is expensive; it's big business. The revolution isn't going to pay."

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