Friends of the Earth European Climate campaign meeting

Tord Björk | Uncategorized | Sunday, December 6th, 2009

A travel report from Czech republic by Tord Björk
At the Moldau river South of Prague Friends of the Earth Europe made its last meeting for climate campaigners before Copenhagen. A lot of groups from all over Europe were present. For once funding had been able to carry out a campaign through many years consistently called The Big Ask. The goal had been to make governments to adopt a climate law thus contributing to the international struggle to combat climate change.

To summarise the meeting it became clear that after Copenhagen more effort would be put on the national and local level which suits FoE well as it is based on national groups with local chapters in all countries. A change in interest is also taking place towards focusing on climate justice rather than mainly focusing on emission targets.

International campaigning is mostly a lot more complicated than many people tend to think. Each country has its political culture and from words to action there is always a balance between making compromises or not. This balance is seldom possible to deal with in the same manner in all countries. Thus a specific target that might be very useful in one country might be far to low in the next. Also what kind of political tools that are chosen as the main ones might differ from country. Sometimes a referendum or seeing changes in the law as the crucial point might be useful, sometimes making expert reports or independent mass civil disobedience might be more useful.

The Big Ask campaign have made it possible to assess how a similar campaign works in different countries. Most countries reported successes, or even great successes. The optimism among the many young campaigners were not to misjudge. Finnish FoE had initiated a Big Ask coalition which flooded the broad entrance of the parliamentary building with 4000 activists dressed up in blue ponchos. FoE England, Wales and Northern Ireland could report how the Big Ask campaign had made their organisation to be perceived as more young and funky. This was the perception from many countries were the campaign has influenced climate bills, most effectively in the UK.

One problem was the balance between campaigning for the full climate justice demands and 40 percent cuts in emissions which FOEI are advocating or to built coalitions with other organisations with less ambitious demands but maybe better possibility to win political victories. Here some countries had chosen to build broad campaigns demanding a yearly reduction of 2 percent, other countries like Denmark had chosen to work with like-minded groups and demand 6 percent. Another problem was that the national organisation as in Germany did not see how the campaign could fit into the actual political situation in the country and thus abstained from participating.

One problem that seemed to bother big organisations was branding. The way to both support broader coalitions and maintain an independent role for the own organisation was co-branding campaign material. Thus FoE could put its logo side by side with a broader climate campaign on material thus giving both organisations a chance to promote themselves. That this does not work ell in consensus cultures as Finland and Sweden seemed hard to understand for others. In spite of the the FoE groups in the two countries had chosen very different tactics, the idea that one had to ask for co-banding material would in both cases be an obstacle to get support fro a broad campaign.

The way the meeting was organised made the space for criticism marginal. British FoE EWNI was dominating the summarising discussions toa degree that ot became comical. FoE EWNI have with its consistent climate justice agenda brought FOEE to an important position bridging the gap within FOEI between Western and Southern group which is historically important. But the tendency to become to much interested in controlling the discussion is ot helpful in the long run. The other tendency that many of the participants were professional Big Ask campaigners also limited the eye for looking more critically upon the campaign results. One example was explicitly brought up though. In the Netherlands the Big Ask campaign had been directed to become young and funky and thus the idea of organising a big concert came up. FoE Netherlands did much of the organisational work but in the end there was not enough efforts from others and the whole thing became a great failure. Here the problems were obvious. Other problems with the campaign that it might put too much emphasis on lobbying rather than movement building and even create sharp divisions within FoE groups were not brought up although it would have been relevant. Only in the report from Denmark one could sense that there were problems, here the representatives stated that they certainly would have liked that the COP15 was not placed in Denmark and that this had put a very heavy strain on FoE Denmark.

A different report from all other countries could FoE Sweden/MJV make. Here no Big Ask coalition had been initiated. MJV focused on criticising false solutions as biofuels contrary to the polices of many NGOs, against nuclear power and showing the hypocrisy of the government that claimed they wanted to save the climate while simultaniously deciding to build new motorways. Instead of only focusing on climate policy MJV also addressed the politics of the government and Swedish corporations. MJV were part of the broad climate coalition but did not put any energy into it. No other organisation seemed willing to use the coalition for anything else than information sharing and other organisations did not share the climate justice demands that MJV saw as important. Instead MJV have been building alliances with Via Campesina and solidarity organisations in Sweden against land grabbing and for food sovereignty. And an alliance for jobs, climate and welfare with networks against privatisation and trade unions. On the emission target FoE Sweden followed the FOEE report on 40 percent reduction and no offsetting ending in the demand to reduce emissions with 9 percent.

One main difference is that Sweden already have climate policies that in relation to other Western countries are considered to be progressive, by WWF the best in the world. MJV do not agree. For one thing the state owned company Vattenfall alone emitting more green house gases then all of Sweden due to its coal power plants in Germany. Neoliberal politics is dominating making both state owned companies and the whole public sector working according to the short term profit principles of privatized companies in a consumerist culture which is a  development model built on false solutions to the climate crisis. To only address climate policy in Sweden would be to neglect the actual climate politics which goes in the opposite direction from the climate policy rhetoric were our prime minister Reinfeldt as EU president goes driving in electric cars and together with his environmental minister states there is no problem in building motorways as all will have electorc cars in the future.

So FoE Sweden had no successful branding activity to report at all as so many other countries had. There had been Big Ask activities as everywhere else, but these activities had been adopted to the Swedish situation and not made a part of a big young and funky branding campaign for better climate policies. There has been fruitful climate hero weekends partly organised together with Young FOEE and Via Campesina. But the kind of division between young and funky lobby oriented identity and activism has not been dominating in Sweden. On the contrary to many other countries the division between climate civil disobedience networks and Friends of the Earth is not so big. The FoE Sweden chair a year ago have been sentenced for attempt at sabotaging air traffic after trying to occupy an air field dressed up as a polar bear. So one could say that FoE Sweden due to Big Ask rather is young. radical and cool rather than only young and funky. And more interestingly, in spite of the lack of branding activities FoE Sweden could report a 40 percent member increase the last year, as it seemed a lot better than most or all other FoE groups.

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