Student - December 18, 2019

Madrid climate summit ‘emotional rollercoaster’

Luuk Zegers

The results of the climate summit in Madrid are disappointing, says WUR student Pippi van Ommen (23). She attended on behalf of Sail to the COP to highlight the need for sustainable, fair travel. She is still proud. ‘Flying has been put on the agenda as a problem’.

© Sail to the COP

The 2019 COP ended on Sunday 15 December with an unimpressive agreement. Van Ommen: ‘It was disappointing for everyone involved. Next year, at the summit in Glasgow, countries will have to present their climate plans for fulfilling the Paris Agreement. The summit in Madrid was supposed to set the tone by tightening up those plans and proposing more ambitious targets. It didn’t succeed so that will have to happen next year. But we’ll be one year further then. It is taking too long. This is a real blow for the millions of young people in particular who have been campaigning over the past year for the climate.’

From sail to rail
Sail to the COP started with the idea of highlighting the climate impact of flying by having a group of 36 young people from Europe sail to the climate summit in Chile. The ship was halfway across the Atlantic when it turned out the summit would not be held in Chile after all because of the unrest there. When it was announced the summit would be in Madrid, turning back was not an option so the climate sailors switched to Plan B. Using the hashtag #railtotheCOP, they called on European summit attendees to travel by land to Madrid. They also put together a new team to represent the sailors at Madrid. Van Ommen was one of the members of that new team. ‘We were in daily contact with the ship crew to discuss strategy and see how we could best tell our story.’

‘I found taking part in the COP much harder emotionally than I’d expected,’ says Van Ommen. ‘There were people there from islands that have to be evacuated because sea levels are rising so fast. And meanwhile we just carry on building and expanding airports. How bad does it have to get before we actually do what is necessary?’
‘A group of us young people were trying to get flying as a problem on the agenda,’ she continues. ‘At the same time, Shell, Exxon and BP were organizing huge events for loads of people. Then you feel so powerless, as if no one is going to hear your message.’

Plans are already being made for the 2020 COP in Glasgow. © Sail to the COP

Climate march
One of the highpoints in Madrid for Van Ommen was the climate march. ‘A half million of us showed that we really do want this. It’s like the Greenpeace director said: “There has never been such a big gap between what the people want and what is being decided in here”.’
‘All in all, I feel very ambivalent,’ concludes Van Ommen. ‘It was an emotional rollercoaster. I am proud that we really put flying on the agenda as a problem. We got a mention in the Dutch children’s news programme and the topical TV show Zondag met Lubach. We got our message across at the COP too. Ministers had to explain why they had come by plane. Our message reached an awful lot of people.’

The young people behind Sail to the COP are now making plans for the 2020 COP in Glasgow. ‘We will be continuing our #railtotheCOP campaign. We want to see whether we can arrange a special climate train and we are investigating whether we can arrange a ship to take young people from South America to Glasgow.’ Expect to hear more from them soon.

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