About Code Red in general

Who or what is Code Red ?

Code Red is a movement for civil disobedience actions founded by activists, students, grandparents and active citizens, supported by various organisations and action groups such as Greenpeace, Youth for Climate, Grandparents for Climate, Exctinction Rebellion, Réseau ADES, Peace Action, Ineos Will Fall, Stop Alibaba and Gauche Anticapitaliste.

Anyone ready to use civil disobedience to bring about a fossil-free society and fairer climate policies is welcome.

Code Red is inspired by similar action platforms abroad, such as Ende Gelände, which are mobilising thousands of people for disruptive actions of civil disobedience in a plea for a just and fossil-free society.

Why are this movement and planned actions needed? Have the climate marches and other actions of the climate movement failed?

Certainly not. Millions of concerned people took to the streets in recent years for ambitious and fair climate and social action. We are seeing progress. But real, systemic change is yet to come, while the climate derails before our eyes and the living conditions of more and more residents deteriorate. We really are now in Code Red.

Major changes in history often came about after mass actions of civil disobedience. Ordinary people willing to protest and break the law to push through change together. Non-violent, but determined. That is also our plan with Code Red .

Where exactly are you going to take action? What are you going to do?

We will communicate about that when the time is right, we still like to keep a bit of mystery 🙂

Code Red’s actions will always target fossil polluters, and we already gave a hint in May by announcing that our second action will target Engie.

What do you expect? What are your demands?

Code Red works for a society where big polluters no longer have free rein, where everyone has fair access to energy and where citizens are supported to move away from climate-polluting fossil fuels. A society where publicly owned renewable energy leads to less pollution, less dependence on unreliable regimes and more peace. A society where the transition to sustainable renewable energy includes everyone, including the most vulnerable. A society with more social equality, respect for everyone’s fundamental rights, lower energy bills, sustainable and safe jobs in a climate-friendly industry, more quality of life and better future prospects for our children and grandchildren.

On this page you will find the demands of Code Rouge.

About Engie

Why exactly are you targeting Engie?

Engie is the most polluting company in Belgium and makes billions in profits thanks to exceptionally high energy prices, while at the same time, climate breakdown has become an everyday reality. Here in Belgium, people have been killed by floods and air pollution, while facing overwhelming power bills and price increases due to the energy crisis. The majority in the world as well are facing much more severe consequences. In spite of this, Engie continues its business-as-usual policy undisturbed.

Engie is poisoning the climate

Engie is lining their pockets with our money

Engie puts lives at risk

Engie blocks the energy revolution

Engie is much more than a symbol. It is a company whose history is rooted in decades of wealth grabbing, misinformation, greenwashing, and devastating projects for the environment and the climate. This history, and their actions, are far from over, and will continue to erode a livable future for years to come. Unless, of course, we take our future into our hands and take action!

But isn't Engie already working on the energy transition? They claim to be investing a lot in alternative energy, shouldn’t we support them?

The new renewable capacity built by Engie does not aim to replace their fossil infrastructure, but to add to the existing gas and nuclear plants. Historically, new, “cleaner” energy sources have never pushed obsolete fossil fuels out of the market, but have only led to an increase in energy consumption (see graph).

What’s more, as a listed company, Engie has no interest in the necessary decrease in energy consumption and is not willing to hand over its energy production capacity to the population. So their “energy transition” is purely a way to make more profit and better their image, it is pure greenwashing.

Your demands are mainly addressed to politicians, so why direct your action to a company like Engie?

Code Red calls for action to draw attention to the big culprit in this climate and energy crisis: the fossil industry. But of course we expect politicians to intervene.

Engie is a symbol of an industry that today makes record profits while people can no longer pay their energy bills. Moreover, it continues to invest in fossil without caring about the environment, social justice and human rights, fuelling bloody conflicts in many parts of the world. We demand of our politicians that they fully commit to a transition away from fossil fuels in which everyone feels included, and where big fossil polluters and big business contribute their fair share.

Over civil disobedience

You are announcing that you will conduct a mass civil disobedience action. Do you not expect heavy police repression?

We choose to communicate publicly and mobilise for a major action of civil disobedience. We are doing this to make the action accessible to all. Our action will follow the principles of non-violent direct action and we are counting on the police to understand our rationale and resepct the constitutional right to protest.

And what if the police do decide to intervene with repression?

We don’t assume they will. But of course Code Red will inform all participants about the risks in any action of civil disobedience. There are a lot of people in our movement with experience of this kind of action. Before, during and after the action, Code Red will take care of the participants and watch over the non-violent principles of our action.

Who will be responsible for any problems or legal consequences for the participants in the action?

Before, during and after the action, Code Red will take care of the participants. This includes support for any legal prosecution of non-violent citizens participating in the action. We are also counting on the solidarity and support of the broad Belgian climate movement.

Who can participate? Is this something only for radical activists?

Code Red was founded by a diverse group of grandparents and youth for climate, citizens’ movements, action groups and NGOs in the climate movement. The July action will offer different levels of engagement and be accessible to all. Not everyone who joins a climate march will also join an action of civil disobedience. But we do notice a growing dissatisfaction among many citizens about a lack of decisive action on climate and social policies by governments in this country. We invite them to join us in action!

With this kind of radical action, aren't you just feeding the anti-climate sentiment that exists among a lot of people? Aren't people likely to drop out?

Polls indicate that many Belgians are concerned about the consequences of the climate and energy crisis. But we understand that the current climate policy approach is alienating and causes tension. Everyone needs to be included in the transition away from fossil fuels. Moreover, big fossil polluters like TotalEnergies and Engie should no longer be given free rein. That is our message and we believe that a lot of Belgians agree with it.

The climate, energy, social and economic crisis keeps plunging more working- and middle-class families into financial trouble. Meanwhile, big and historic fossil polluters like TotalEnergies or Engie are thriving and making huge profits. Their greenwashing misleads and poisons our society. They are rewarded by politicians with bonuses and financial incentives to worsen the climate crisis, but their workers are left in the dark about their future.

About gas

Isn't natural gas a relatively clean fuel?

Burning fossil gas in Belgium’s planned gas-fired power plants could release between 300,0000 and 2.4 million tonnes of CO2 per year (depending on the size and number of running hours of the plant), throughout its lifetime of some 25-30 years. Those CO2 emissions do not even include the methane leaks that occur when fossil gas is extracted and transported, which is systematically under-reported and under-regulated. These methane leaks are not surprising when you know that natural gas is essentially methane, which is an extremely powerful greenhouse gas that causes around 80 times as much warming as CO2. In short, “natural gas” is no more or no less than fossil methane gas. For that, there is only one safe place: underground, where it already sits.

So what about the European Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS)? Doesn't the ETS then neutralise the climate impact of new, Belgian gas power plants, for example by pushing coal plants elsewhere out of the market?

The short answer is no.

The longer answer, according to us, goes as follows. For decades, national governments have delayed pursuing bold climate policies, waiting for others to start, before finally getting to work themselves. This time again, the Belgian government believes that it can allow a huge increase in CO2 emissions on its own territory through the use of subsidies and the construction of new gas-fired power plants, assuming that other EU countries will reduce their emissions. It is time for every government, especially those of a rich and historically polluting country like Belgium, to take their responsibility. 

Besides this moral argument, there are three additional reasons why the European Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) will certainly not completely nullify the climate impact of new gas power plants. First, the ETS is not in line with an equitable carbon budget that can keep us below 1.5°C warming globally. EU countries, like Belgium, are colonising the atmosphere and causing climate disasters mainly at the expense of people in the Global South. Greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced to zero in the next 10 years.

Second, the ETS only regulates CO2 emissions, not methane emissions.

Third, a more technical argument. There is both now, and most likely in the coming years, a significant oversupply of quotas in the ETS. Admittedly, the EU came up with a so-called Market Stability Reserve. That mechanism removes allowances from the market in case of excessive oversupply. In this way, the EU’s overall emissions cap drops, or in other words, companies can all together emit less than what was originally set in the ETS. This is a relatively good thing.

However, if major industrial plants are added in the near future, such as new gas-fired power plants in Belgium, they will simply be able to buy allowances that are in surplus, as well as lead to fewer allowances being taken out of the market by the MSR mechanism. Given this context, there is no guarantee that new Belgian gas plants will push out of the market old coal plants elsewhere in the EU. Indeed, by using emission allowances that would otherwise be removed from the market, Belgian gas plants can effectively increase European emissions.

Surely new gas plants can be converted into climate-neutral power plants?

Gas plants equipped with a carbon capture system, or running on so-called green hydrogen are the wet dreams of power companies and ecomodernists. Those dreams are miles from reality, however.

The fairytales of “carbon capture and storage” and “clean hydrogen” production have been around for a long time. Over and over again, it has been shown that these technologies are false and dangerous promises for the future, doing nothing more than justifying the expansion of fossil gas infrastructure in the present. Shell’s much discussed and vastly subsidized “blue hydrogen” plant in Canada, for example, happened to emit more greenhouse gases than it captured, effectively worsening the climate crisis instead of mitigating it.

About nuclear energy

Nuclear energy is climate friendly, no? Why do you oppose it?

A life time extension for nuclear reactors Doel 4 and Tihange 3 beyond the legally planned exit in 2025 are first of all practically unfeasible in terms of costs and timing to get the safety updates and legal work done. In contrast to the illegal life time extensions in 2015, the Constitutional Court ruled  this time that a vast public consultation would need to happen.

Extending or even expanding nuclear energy is also undesirable. Nuclear energy is undemocratic, maintaining energy production in the hands of few multinationals. Risks of nuclear accidents remain and there is no solution for the management of radio-active waste which remains dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years. Importantly, nuclear is not renewable, but depends on the continuous mining of uranium. These neo-colonial supply chains cause unacceptable harm to marginalised communities where the ressource is being extracted.

About energy sufficiency

You don't want gas, nor nuclear: what about the security of supply?

Shortly: we don’t need new gas plants after a full nuclear exit to meet our energy needs. Providing security of supply means meeting energy demand at every single moment throughout the year. Since there are peaks in demand, a lot of the energy producing capacity is hardly used at all. This would also be the case for new gas plants. Importantly, in 2021 the energy market watchdog CREG corrected the system operator Elia for largely overestimating the need for new gas plants.

Beyond discussions on the numbers, it is striking that everyone talks about more capacity instead of less demand. Instead of building expansive new gas plants to meet rare peaks, industrial demand in energy-intensive and highly polluting sector can also be reduced at peak times, if workers are well accommodated of course. The Dutch system operator Tennet, for example, studied which industrial sectors can be turned down most conveniently to lessen demand. In the Dutch context, industry could scale down 3400MW, which is equivalent to 4 new, large gas plants. Households, hospitals, public transport etc are absolutely essential and should be prioritised at all times.

But seriously, won't the lights go out when the wind doesn't blow and the sun doesn't shine?

 Renewable energy sources are more reliable than ever, particularly offshore wind. Thanks to the new interconnector cables with our neigbouring countries, the variability of renewables flattens out even more, due to differing weather conditions across Europe. Also, via weather forecasts the output of renewables can be predicted and industrial activity could be planned accordingly as discussed above.

Beyond questions of peak demand, it’s also important to reduce overall energy demand. The less energy is consumed, the easier it gets to fulfill it entirely with renewable energy.

Why do you think that low-energy demand scenario's make most sense to tackle the climate crisis?

 Globally, renewable energy is not replacing fossil fuels, it simply adds on to ever rising demand for energy (see graphic underneath).

Using less energy is thus not a ‘nice to have’, it’s a must have. Currently, nearly all climate scenario’s that the IPCC and our governments rely on, are based on totally unrealistic amounts of ‘negative emissions’ in the second half of this century. Technologies that would actively eliminate CO2 from the atmosphere are, at this very moment, non-existent, extremely risky or ridiculously expensive at the appropriate scale. The less energy we use, the lower the investment costs, the higher the security of supply and the less destructive mining for materials needed for renewables and batteries.

A just transition towards a future of low-energy demand, what does that look like?

This is up to us to decide. In other European countries, a number of initiatives emerged to explore this degrowth path, e.g. Neue Ökonomie in Germany or négaWatt in France. A first, important step for policymakers would be to take these low energy demand scenarios seriously. The federal government has the authority to order additional studies on such scenarios from Elia and the Federal Planning Bureau. This could help us compare the social and environmental costs and benefits of choosing between fossil gas, nuclear or socially just, low-energy scenarios.

Why is it that gas prices have such a big impact on our energy bills?

The energy market is structured in such a way that the price of the kWh is determined by the cost of the most expensive power plant currently running to meet demand. If the price of gas goes up, it affects the prices of all forms of electricity generation, including renewables. One way to avoid having to build peak fossil-fuel power plants to meet shortages of solar and wind power when capacity is low is to turn the problem of security of supply on its head by basing consumption on generation capacity at a given time, rather than the other way around.

What would happen if there was a shortage of energy? Would the lights go out?

The risk of a shortage in power generation has been studied before and a load shedding plan has been drawn up to avoid a “blackout” scenario. This plan involves a division into sectors and locations and the final decision remains in the hands of ministers. This means that no hospitals, schools, healthcare facilities or public transport will be left without power in case of a downturn in production, if we choose to prioritise those sectors over, say, industrial sectors that consume a lot of energy.