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european groups: big ask gets great response

With climate change a key priority for Friends of the Earth’s groups across Europe, national 'Big Ask' campaigns were a key priority in 2009. The Big Ask is directed at national governments, and aims to bring about real and immediate change by calling for binding national laws to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

penguin refugee campFriends of the Earth Scotland scored a resounding Big Ask victory when members of the Scottish Parliament voted for a target to reduce greenhouse gases by 42% by 2020 – the most ambitious statutory target in the world – following overwhelming support for early action to cut emissions, from scientists, Scottish celebrities and Friends of the Earth campaigners. Many other European countries are considering similar legislation.


Friends of the Earth’s ability to mobilize people was amply demonstrated when ten thousand people turned out to dance Bollywood-style on the beach in Ostend, Belgium, for a film for our ‘Big Ask’ campaign, organized by Friends of the Earth Belgium and the Belgian Climate Coalition. 


Another successful Big Ask action saw four thousand people ‘flooding’ the Finnish parliament to call for a climate law, in the biggest environmental gathering in Finland’s history. 


While the results of the Copenhagen climate talks in December 2009 were highly unsatisfactory, Friends of the Earth Europe, as part of the Friends of the Earth International federation, also had a strong presence in Copenhagen. One after another, groups of activists from across Europe joined together to form a five thousand-strong human ‘flood for climate justice’, showing the incredible strength of the network. 


Young Friends of the Earth Europe also mobilized many more young activists, encouraging them to make their voices heard in Copenhagen. They held four regional conferences in Malmo, Montpellier, Berlin and Dublin bringing together nearly 200 young people for training and action workshops in the run-up to the global climate talks. 


Friends of the Earth groups in Belgium, Spain and Austria also hosted a tour of climate witnesses, in advance of the Copenhagen negotiations. Beginning in Flanders, the "Climaxi" tour, brought stories from the frontline of climate change. The speakers came from Kiribati in the South Pacific, where rising sea levels are already a serious problem, and from Brazil, where indigenous peoples in the Amazon are struggling against rising water levels and the expansion of mining activities. 


Young people throughout the network also developed and organized their own actions and events in the build-up to Copenhagen, and produced and distributed hundreds of activists’ handbooks with ideas and messages for promoting climate justice. Young Friends of the Earth Netherlands, for example, collected 3,000 messages from the public about their opinion on their government’s action on climate change. They then created a beach where the washed up ‘SOS’ messages could be read (inside 3,000 recycled plastic bottles), and where young activists delivered the messages in person to the Dutch Minister for the Environment.


Friends of the Earth Europe has also been making sure that concerns about climate change are heard loud and clear in Brussels. Friends of the Earth Europe and the Stockholm Environment Institute joined forces to prove that Europe can cut its domestic emissions by at least 40% by 2020, and 90% by 2050 (compared to 1990 levels). Friends of the Earth Europe also organized a preview screening of the climate change film ‘The Age of Stupid’ in the European Parliament, before its official release. It was a unique opportunity to screen a powerful film on the consequences of runaway climate change.


A joint Friends of the Earth Europe and CEE Bankwatch conference on ‘Climate Proofing EU Structural and Cohesion Funds’ also dealt with the climate impact of EU funds, programs and projects. It explored opportunities for de-carbonization in the transport and energy sectors, and discussed the kind of cohesion policy needed in order to deliver low carbon development in the European regions.


A penguin refugee camp built from non-energy efficient appliances was also erected outside the European Commission. The stunt called on European decision-makers to stop caving in to industry pressure and to strengthen energy efficiency proposals so that Europe can meet its environmental and climate change targets.


Four countries also enjoyed performances by the Energy Union tour in 2009. The tour combines climate and renewable energy messages with music from UK group Coldcut into a multimedia show. The tour began in Munich and toured through Pécs, Vienna, Budapest, Košice, Bratislava, and Graz before finishing in Berlin. It continues in 2010.


Friends of the Earth also rejects nuclear power as a solution to climate change. As part of a wide movement including environment organizations, trade unions and churches, 50,000 people marched through the streets of Berlin declaring that it’s time to switch off nuclear power. It was the biggest antinuclear demonstration in Germany since Chernobyl, and sent a clear message to politicians that nuclear power is not a solution to energy security or climate change.

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