News - July 16, 2019

WUR students sail a three-master to Chile climate summit

Luuk Zegers

A young team of activists that includes two WUR students wants to go to the climate summit in Chile, come what may, to draw attention to the impact of flying on the climate. But how do you do that without catching one of those polluting planes yourself? By hiring a three-master (including captain and cook) and sailing the 10,000 plus kilometres.

©Andreas Grotevent

A ship with 26 young Europeans will be leaving Scheveningen harbour on 1 October. Destination: the climate summit in Chile (2 to 13 December). The sailing ship will stop at Casablanca, Tenerife, the Cape Verde islands, Recife in Brazil and finally Rio de Janeiro. From there, a bus will take them to Santiago in Chile.

Statement criticizing flying
WUR student Moon Weijens (MSc in International Land and Water Management) is one of the four people who started the Sail to the COP project: she set it up together with Mara de Pater (MSc in Environmental Sciences), Jeppe Bijker and Lena Hartog. ‘Flying makes a significant contribution to climate change and the aviation sector is growing fast, but aviation only plays a small role in the climate debate. We are concerned about that. By sailing to the climate summit, the young people of Europe are making a statement: if we want to reduce global emissions, that means doing something about growth in the aviation industry.’

The initiators asked organizations in various European countries to pass on an invitation to join Sail to the COP. ‘We got 60 enthusiastic responses,’ says Weijens. ‘We selected 22 from that group. There are still 10 places left on board, which are reserved for partners and experts.’


By sailing to the climate summit, the young people of Europe are making a statement
Moon Weijens

The future of travel
The ship will be a kind of think tank on water because as they sail across the ocean, the passengers will be tackling the question of what the future of travel should look like. Weijens: ‘It is mainly about sustainability and fairness. Countries agreed a long time ago that there would be no tax on plane tickets or kerosene. But if you take the train, you do pay tax. That is not fair and it makes the plane a more attractive option for consumers, whereas flying actually has the biggest effect on the climate. This has got to change. But you can’t do that as a country on your own; it needs to be a joint effort. That is why the international climate summit is the best place to raise this issue.’

Partners, sponsors and crowdfunding
Chartering a ship is not cheap. ‘We are trying to raise money through crowdfunding, sponsors and partners,’ says Weijens. ‘Participants also pay 2,500 euros as a contribution to the trip. The Sail to the COP partners give us an issue to work on. We are still waiting for those, but I would expect someone like ProRail, for example, to ask how they can persuade people to choose the train rather than the plane.’

The young people are still busy looking for more partners and sponsors. ‘From thematic partners that send us off with issues to sailing gear and food, and an advanced communication system for the internet so that we can post updates while at sea.’

For more information about the journey and the participants, see or the Facebook page.