On Sunday, tens of thousands of people took part in the #BackToTheClimate march in Brussels, the first large-scale demonstration of its kind in 18 months, to call for climate justice.
The police confirmed to The Brussels Times that their final crowd count tallied around 25,000 people, however according to the Klimaatcoalitie, the non-profit organisation behind the action, the figure is at least double that.
The main aim of the march was to draw attention to the fact that the Belgian governments and policymakers, ahead of a European summit and the major climate summit COP26 in Glasgow, which will begin at the end of this month, must come up with a Belgian Green New Deal, "with ambitious and concrete actions for the climate."
"We have the means and the solutions to fight the climate crisis, yet a few weeks before the COP, Belgium still does not have a real climate plan that is supported by all governments," said Zanna Vanrenterghem, vice-president of the Klimaatcoalitie.
'Marching as climate refugee'
This year, extreme weather conditions affected populations across the world, including in Belgium, where the deadly July floods impacted the lives of thousands, often in some of the most precarious villages.
One victim of the floods, Bernadette Leemans from Chaudfontaine, one of the most flood-struck municipalities in Wallonia, travelled to Brussels to take to the streets to fight for change.
"This summer, the climate crisis hit Belgium hard. I have participated in previous climate marches, but today I am standing here as a climate refugee and not just as a concerned citizen anymore," Leemans said.
According to the Klimaatcoalitie, decisive policies are needed to minimise the impact and to "protect us from more disasters to come, starting with the most vulnerable people."
- 'Not changing system': Belgium criticised for not prioritising climate change
- UN recognition of human right to healthy environment gives hope for planet’s future, says human rights expert
Speaking ahead of the march, Vanrenterghem told The Brussels Times that the Klimaatcoalitie that it had already done the government's homework by writing Green new deal memorandum tailored to Belgium, with hundred of measures that the respective governments can "copy-paste."
Belgian climate activist Anuna De Wever also announced that the Friday "School strike for Climate" actions will soon return, during an event following the march.
Although fewer people took part in Sunday's march than during the last large-scale demonstration in January 2019, when 70,000 people took to the streets, the Klimaatcoalitie celebrated that the group of protesters has become more diverse than ever.
More than 90 organisations were represented, including the usual nature and environmental organisations and civil society movements, as well as health, human rights and poverty organisations. The crowd itself was also diverse, from young children to grandparents, and people of all backgrounds.
"We are back, more determined than ever! We are more than 50 000 and the count is not over yet!" the organisation said on its Twitter.