2008: The year in review

Feature story - 5 January, 2009
Here's a look at all the efforts for a green and peaceful future that our supporters made possible in 2008.

Climate Rescue Station, Poland, November-December 2008.

In 2008, we took action around the world - helping to create a toxic-free future; defending our oceans and protecting our ancient forests; we helped protect the polar bear from the ravages of climate change and we discovered a new species. Most importantly of all, we took action to catalyse an Energy [R]evolution, showing the world how to get from where we are now to where we need to be.

We need to see the world's carbon emissions finally peak by 2015 before being cut by over 50 percent by 2050 - and as 2009 dawns, we come one year closer to this critical deadline.

It's not just been actions - everything we do, we back up with science and solutions. Our Energy [R]evolution scenario provides the practical blueprint for the world's renewable energy future; our new edition, released in November, was launched with the help of a world leader who knew how to aim high. Our Forests for Climate proposal provides for an international funding mechanism that can protect tropical forests.

We also opened a new office: 2008 saw the launch of Greenpeace Africa, with offices in South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo. With an office in Senegal to follow in the early part of the New Year, our presence in Africa furthers our efforts to be a truly global organisation.

Protecting our ancient forests

Destruction of the world's tropical rainforests has been one of the greatest ecological disasters of our time. Indonesia's 'paradise forests' are being felled at a faster rate than in any other major forested country - and this wholesale destruction is being driven by the world's largest food, cosmetics and biofuels producers.

In 2008, Greenpeace took direct action against Unilever, one of the largest users of palm oil. This included a hugely successful online parody of Unilever's ad for its Dove soap product, which staggered the business world and reached the pages of The Wall Street Journal. Unilever announced in May that it would support our call for a moratorium - good news for the climate, good news for the orang-utan that calls the paradise forest its home, and good news for the indigenous peoples who depend on the forests for their livelihoods.

2008 also saw good news for the Brazilian Amazon, and worrying news for the forests of the Congo Basin.

Defending our oceans

During the summer, the Greenpeace ship Esperanza was busy defending the Western Pacific from pirate fishers and the world's largest tuna destroyer, while the Arctic Sunrise was defending the Mediterranean; although the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas rendered itself incapable of managing the recovery of bluefin tuna stocks in the Mediterranean and Eastern Atlantic, at the end of the year there was at least a glimmer of hope for Pacific bigeye and yellowfin tuna.

In order to save fish for the future we've been calling on retailers and fish purchasers to stop buying all species that are overfished or caught using fish aggregation devices. We've been taking action to prevent destructive bottom-trawling in the North Sea. We've been tackling the pirates.

And, we launched two new websites: one that supplies a list of those seafood species at high risk of being sourced from overfished stocks or being caught using destructive fishing methods, and one that provides an online database of fishing vessels involved in illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and the companies that own them. We'll continue to push for a global network of fully protected marine reserves covering 40 percent of our oceans. This will help to buffer our seas from the ravages of climate change, restore the health of fish stocks and protect ocean life from habitat destruction and collapse.

Creating a toxic-free future

In February, our report ' Toxic Tech: Not in Our Backyard' showed how the fate of large quantities of electronic waste is unknown. Ghana was one place where our investigations uncovered high-tech toxic trash causing horrendous pollution.

We've been pressurising the biggest electronic companies to phase out toxic chemicals and introduce global recycling schemes. Both of these are vital to tackle the growing tide of toxic e-waste. Some companies are making progress towards taking responsibility for the entire lifecycle of their products. However, Philips is one company that stood out in 2008 for refusing to accept responsibility for recycling its old products, and we've been there to demand that it lives up to its motto of 'Sense and Simplicity' and joins with other companies in stopping the dumping of e-waste in developing countries left to face the toxic legacy.

Catalysing an Energy [R]evolution

The Rainbow Warrior and the Arctic Sunrise spearheaded our call on the world to "Quit Coal", essential to a meaningful deal to save the climate. In a year in which Al Gore said, "I can't understand why there aren't rings of young people blocking bulldozers and preventing them from constructing coal-fired power plants" we were doing precisely that. And, in an unprecented court case in the UK, leading climate scientists came to our defence when the so-called Kingsnorth Six were tried for - and subsequently acquitted of - criminal damage to a coal-fired plant. The jury found our actions justified when considering the damage to property caused around the world by CO2 emissions from the plant.

The need to quit coal was just one message we brought to governments in the run up to key climate negotations that took place in Poznan, Poland, in December. We continued to highlight how nuclear power undermines the solutions to climate change - enjoying a hugely significant success in Turkey - and we put pressure on the EU to curb emissions from gas-guzzling cars. And, during the climate negotiations, we set up a Climate Rescue Station in Posnan to make sure they knew - as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reminded delegates when he opened the high-level segment of the UN Climate Change Conference -  that the world would be watching.

While we were disappointed with the lack of progress made at the UN climate negotiations, together with a depressingly diluted EU climate package, at least the pressure we all (and we mean everyone who sent a message, signed a petition, uploaded a photo for Greenpeace or any organisation) generated was enough to stop them from going backwards! The road towards the next UN climate meeting in Copenhagen in December, 2009 is a long one - but we'll be campaigning for an Energy [R]evolution and we're going to need your help to make it successful!

The Tokyo Two

Finally, to one of the major stories of 2008. Our year started with the Esperanza protesting the hunting of whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary by the Fisheries Agency of Japan. We exposed scandal after scandal, and on May 15 our undercover investigations exposed the smuggling of large amounts of prime-cut whale meat from the whaling ship Nisshin Maru. Greenpeace activists Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki - the 'Tokyo Two' - took a box of intercepted whale meat to the Tokyo public prosecutor as evidence of the whaling industry's embezzlement. However, in an absurd inversion of justice,  they themselves were arrested and charged for stealing the box of whale meat, and the scandal investigation was dropped.

Constant pressure on Japan's whaling industry by the international community reduced the fleet to sneaking out of port for the 2008-2009 whaling season in a fog of crisis and scandal, desperate to avoid attention. The obvious disarray within the whaling industry, the announcement of a 20 percent reduction in the number of whales to be hunted ths year and the extreme over-reaction by the authorities towards Junichi and Toru shows that we are successfully pulling the rug out from under the whaling industry's feet. It's the beginning of the end, and it's time for Japanese taxpayers to demand their government stop subsidising this bankrupt programme.

More than 250,000 of you sent protest emails to the Japanese prime minister, asking for the release of the Tokyo Two. After 26 days in custody, they were released but are still awaiting trial. As the world celebrated the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we took a delegation of people to Japan to declare the arrest of Junichi and Toru an act of political censorship. We told the authorities that we, too, were complicit in working to save the whales. We want to take a lot of you along on this mission. With your help, we will put whaling on trial, and demand justice for the Tokyo Two in 2009.


Let's make 2009 a year for success. With your help - whether you make a donation, support us with actions, volunteer, or simply help spread the news - we can continue our work to change attitudes and behaviours, to protect and conserve the environment, and to promote peace.

Here's to 2009!