Klimaat Alarm protest in Maastricht
By Yves Lacroix
While Liège was marked by a Black Lives Matter protest that ended in riots this weekend, the Vrijthof in Maastricht was dotted once again by more than 500 people calling for a tougher stance on climate change. The protest, organised by the Maastricht Climate Coalition, was despite the severity of its message, more of a festive gathering. With speeches interchanged with musical performances and even a pair of dancing trees in the audience, the event went by without trouble.
I had the opportunity to talk to Constantijn van Aartsen (33), spokesperson of the Maastricht Climate Coalition and postdoc researcher. "We can see that some steps are being taken," he says, "but if you take a good look at the goals and ambitions set in the Paris Agreement you can see that those steps aren’t big enough. We need change on a large scale."
196 countries committed to take steps to limit the increase in global temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels. Even though five years have passed, global carbon emission actually increased by 1.7 per cent in 2017 and another 2.7 per cent in 2018.
"Even if we manage to implement the Paris goals, then this may not be enough," Constantijn says. He explains to me that these goals are based on scientific measurements and variables. "Some other variables just aren’t taken into account because they cannot be reliably measured."
He gives the example of tipping points. Situations, that, when it's too late, can’t be fixed. "Consider the Amazon rainforest. We see that a lot of the water that creates rainfall deeper inland is transported there by coastal area forests. With more and more of these coastal forests disappearing, less water is reaching the trees further inland. Less rain means more drought and more forest fires which release carbon dioxide and reduce the number of trees which can recapture it. Eventually, the forest dies, and the weather and soil conditions are so altered that it cannot be restored. You don’t know exactly when or how this will occur, so you can’t model it properly. But it remains a huge issue. The Amazon has become so degraded at this point, that it actually contributes towards climate change."
While it definitely helps that people are trying to make a change themselves, he’s sad to say it's not enough. "Even if you eat less meat, buy sustainable products and recycle your trash, there’s still an imbalance. In the end, you’re dealing with companies that want to see growth, and there are problems you cannot purchase away, like poverty, advertising and corporate lobbying." While he acknowledges that profit isn’t the sole purpose of every company, there are structural issues that mean that just living a sustainable life is not enough to generate overall change.
"That’s why we need that large scale change of mind" he says. "For a long time, we’ve lived under the illusion that the free market could solve it. That if everybody starts to buy sustainable products, companies will change. This process is happening, but it doesn’t change things fast enough to stop biodiversity loss and climate change." This is, where he believes, governments come in.
"The government has a clear responsibility to make economic policy instead of just outsourcing it to the market. Anyone who wants to live a more sustainable life has to go through hours of research, collecting, sometimes dubious, information from all over the internet. The government can remove the inefficiency of this process by implementing clear and strict product standards where necessary. This creates a win-win-win outcome which achieves environmental results, saves everyone’s time, and rewards sustainable production."
The municipality can play a role in this too he thinks. The Maastricht Climate Coalition has made eight demands that aim to make Maastricht a more climate-friendly city. One example is free public transport. With fewer cars on the road, the coalition hopes to reduce the amount of co2 released into the air. The same goal could be reached by making homes more sustainable, the coalition says on their website. "The municipality must put measures in place for all houses in Maastricht to be made carbon neutral while ensuring that this transition doesn’t come at the cost of the people." To reach that goal they believe the municipality should financially support families that can’t afford to make the transition happen themselves.
Another idea is to involve residents more closely in the process. Their website states: there is no need to run our economy for distant investors and faceless corporations. Instead, we can focus on our local community while paying careful attention to local and global concerns.
"Take for example the idea of solar farms. The municipality is now using a foreign company as an investor. Why not have locals invest in such projects and have them, and the local economy, profit from it too?"
The Maastricht Climate Coalition might sound unfamiliar but it isn’t new to the scene. The group consists of a number of organisations, which you can find below, that were already heavily invested in the topic. "Before the pandemic, we were mostly operating by ourselves but we decided we needed to work together to increase our impact," Constantijn tells me. The coalition has since its establishment organised several events to raise awareness and, in addition, hosts a fortnightly webinar informing participants on environmental topics as well as their demands.
The Maastricht Coalition consists of the following organisations: Klimaat Actie Netwerk Maastricht, Fossil Free Maastricht, Precious Plastic Maastricht, Maastricht for Climate, Milieudefensie afdeling Maastricht, FNV, Internationale Socialisten in Zuid-Limburg, Extinction Rebelion Maastricht, Amnesty International Maastricht Students and the Alliantie tegen Maastricht Aachen Airport.