More than a year and a half after Greenpeace activists walked up the red carpet at a state banquet where they opened a banner calling on world leaders to take urgent action to save the Copenhagen climate talks, eleven Greenpeace activists from eight countries appeared today in a Danish court, where they faced serious charges for their peaceful protest.
On the night of December 17th 2009, the Copenhagen Climate Summit was limping towards failure, but a glimmer of hope existed – there was still a chance to deliver a global climate deal. World leaders needed to be reminded of this, so Juan as 'Head of State of the Natural Kingdom', his 'wife' Nora, and Christian, as their ‘bodyguard, walked up the red carpet to a royal dinner for more than 120 heads of states at the Danish Parliament Building. Once inside they unfurled banners that read “Politicians talk, leaders act”.
All three were immediately arrested and held for 20 days, including over Christmas and New Year. Joris, who was outside the Parliament speaking to media during the protest, was arrested the following day and also spent the festive season in the same jail. Twenty months later, the 11 activists have left the court building in Copenhagen, and now await the Court’s verdict. During today’s hearing, Joris made an impassioned and inspired statement on climate change and the need for ordinary people to take a stand, which we have published in full below.
But before you read on, make sure you shout out our thanks and admiration to the “Red Carpet 11” – Joris, Nora, Juan, Christian, Morton, Victor, Dima, Melanie, Guilhem, Thomas and Anders.
With this year's Durban climate meeting approaching, world leaders must not repeat the failure of Copenhagen but instead take strong and urgent action for the climate - action that is needed now, more than ever.
Statement to Copenhagen City Court by Joris Thijssen, 19th August 2011.
My name is Joris Thijssen and I am from the Netherlands. In 2009 Denmark hosted the most important summit on combating climate change. The Danish Prime Minister said at the time: ‘…that the world was looking to the conference to safeguard humanity’, indicating the gravity and urgency of the situation. That is why we did what we did. Not because it was fun, cool to do, or that we like to dress up as a Head of State.
Climate change impacts
Even though these are words of a Prime Minister, they are just words. Your honour, have you ever seen the impacts of climate change? I have. Almost 20 years ago, when I was an aerospace engineering student and not involved with Greenpeace or the environment yet, I worked on a sheep farm in Australia. Their sheep died because it hadn’t rained for years. Later I understood the livelihood of this farmer was threatened by climate change.
I have also seen the melting ice in Patagonia, on the Kilimajaro mountain in Africa, etc, etc. As we speak Greenpeace is working with other organisations to collect stories from woman in developing countries who are trying to deal with climate impacts. I would have loved to have one of those women here, so you could hear it first hand. The day before yesterday we published a new story where Saraswoti Bhetwal explains how she has found a way to deal with erratic rains in Nepal that can be 50% less than normal. Great that she found a way to adapt, but as impacts get more severe, that will not always be possible and billions of lives will be impacted.
A few dead sheep don’t make climate change. So one of the biggest scientific accorded processes was set up under the authority of the United Nations, to review the thousands of researches on this topic. The thousands of scientist on this climate panel reached the consensus that the climate is changing, mankind is causing it, society as we know it is threatened and YES we can solve it!
Former vice president of the USA Al Gore made a movie about it and together with the UN climate panel, he got an Oscar and a Nobel Peace price for his work. He said: ‘We, the human species, are confronting a planetary emergency - a threat to the survival of our civilization that is gathering ominous and destructive potential even as we gather here. But there is hopeful news as well: we have the ability to solve this crisis and avoid the worst - though not all - of its consequences, if we act boldly, decisively and quickly.
However, despite a growing number of honourable exceptions, too many of the world's leaders are still best described in the words Winston Churchill applied to those who ignored Adolf Hitler's threat: "They go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all powerful to be impotent."
The way Greenpeace works
Your Honour, as I said before, we did not do this because we like to dress up as Heads of State. Knowing these facts for Greenpeace and for all the individual defendants, this is the issue of our time that we need to solve or our societies as we know it are under threat. So during this crucial year 2009, we had hundreds of people working around the globe pushing Heads of State to go to Copenhagen and solve this issue.
And it worked. The researches we did, the reports we produced, the press conferences we gave, and the lobbying conversations we had - it worked. Heads of States were committing to go to Copenhagen. Heads of States from Brazil, the EU, China, and India were making statements that moved the negotiations a bit ahead. We threw our full force behind this campaign. I could show you a video with hundreds of peaceful activities we undertook around the Copenhagen process. During the Copenhagen conference, we participated in the big demonstration, we put advertisements at the airport as delegates arrived, we had a big banner on one of our ships visible as delegates’ planes arrived at the airport, etc, etc. Now it came down to the 24 hours these Heads of State were in Copenhagen to seal a deal!
During the first 10 days of the conference we had a strong team present at the Bella Center to follow the talks and to lobby the delegates. It was not going well. There was not enough movement, ambitions were not high enough to solve the problem, it really came down to the leaders of this world, the Heads of State to use the power they have and crack the issue. In the run up to the conference, Ban Ki Moon said:
'Science tells us that the stakes at Copenhagen could not be higher. But the benefits of taking urgent, united action are similarly powerful. We must not squander this unique opportunity to chart a new path to low-carbon prosperity for all. It is essential that we achieve an ambitious climate deal in Copenhagen. The moment is now.
Ultimately, however, it is up to governments to decide on the content and form of an agreement. Responsibility for the outcome at Copenhagen -- as with any major international agreement -- rests on their shoulders.’
Than we heard that we, and the rest of civil society, were kicked out of the Bella Center, with no access to the people who would decide about the faith of our societies. So that’s when we decided to take action and we did what we did. Peacefully, when the world was watching, we urged the Heads of State once more to act and not to talk, because all other means were unavailable.
We had to act
We believe there is room in the law for us to do this. But it’s even stronger. We feel we had the obligation to do it. As concerned citizens we saw our politicians fail to be leaders. We saw how this biggest problem of our time was not going to be solved. So we had to act. We had to use the democratic space given to us to urge our politicians to be leaders. To act!
In this respect Gandhi once said: ‘Civil disobedience becomes a sacred duty when the state has become corrupt enough.’ We can discuss the definition of ‘corrupt’, but I feel that when our governments don’t act in the interest of humanity, there is a reason to stand up.
Al Gore called for civil disobedience with respect to climate change when he said: ‘If you're a young person looking at the future of this planet and looking at what is being done right now, and not done, I believe we have reached the stage where it is time for civil disobedience to prevent the construction of new coal plants’
Your Honour, I am almost through, but I want to say a few more things about the ‘no comment’ answers I gave at the first day of the trial. I felt that with these questions the public prosecutor was looking for the leader, the coordinator who was the mastermind behind all this. I got nervous, because I can then imagine that this mastermind could face a more serious verdict.
So I want to tell you how this works with Greenpeace. Obviously we have a system in place to ensure everybody knows what others are doing, so in that sense there is coordination. Regarding this action, the organisation Greenpeace as well as all the individuals you see here, made their own decision to participate in one way or another in this action. Because we all feel the issues are so serious, because we feel we have the right to act, even the obligation to contribute to the solution. There is no one who tells someone else what to do or what not to do. It is on a voluntary basis and everybody make up his / her own mind.
To give you an example to illustrate our principled approach to peaceful protest: four of us were arrested during the action or the day after the action. But five other people were not arrested, and the police had no idea who they were. When the police finally requested (after three weeks) to come forward with the five names of the other people directly involved, these five individuals stepped forward voluntarily and gave their name. They are here today and it shows our vision on civil disobedience: we don’t hide; we are open and honest about what we do.
Your Honour, I hope I was able to express urgency of the issue, of all those people facing the consequences of climate change and of the attitude of the defendants towards the issue and towards civil disobedience. I trust you will think about our motivations to take action when you make your deliberations to reach a verdict.
 BBC. (2009). Copenhagen summit urged to take climate change action. Last accessed 19th Aug. 2011
 Athar Parvaiz . (2011). Adapting to climate change can be simple. Last accessed 19th Aug. 2011.
 Al Gore. (2007). SPEECH BY AL GORE ON THE ACCEPTANCE OF THE NOBEL PEACE PRIZE. Last accessed 19th Aug.2011
 Ban Ki Moon. (2009). Now is our time. Last accessed 18th Aug.
 Gandhi. (2005). Gandhi quotations. Last accessed 18th Aug. 2011.
 Fox news. (2008). Al Gore Urges 'Civil Disobedience' Toward Coal Plants. Last accessed 18th Aug. 2011.
Credits: Group photo: © Greenpeace/Klaus Holsting. Joris Thijssen portrait: © Greenpeace/Christian Åslund