Climate Hero Kumi Naidoo

Kumi Naidoo is building a global movement to force world leaders to adopt a binding agreement on climate change. He is executive director of Greenpeace International and chairs TckTckTck, a global campaign for climate action.

Photo by Mac Urata


Kumi Naidoo learned early in life what mass movements of ordinary people can accomplish: At age 15, he organized youth and neighborhood groups to push for an end to apartheid in South Africa. Nearly 30 years later, Naidoo is building a global movement to force world leaders to adopt a binding agreement on climate change. He chairs the Global Campaign for Climate Action, the group behind TckTckTck, a diffuse and colorful campaign for worldwide mobilization whose name evokes a countdown for climate action. All of TckTckTck’s actions, from civil disobedience and street protests to a celebrity music video, send the same message to global ­policymakers: The time has come for urgent, decisive steps to curb climate change. In November, Naidoo became executive director of Greenpeace International, a partner in the TckTckTck coalition.

What is the role of direct action in shaping the debate on climate change?

History shows that we are only able to effect change when decent men and women are prepared to put their lives on the line, go to prison, take risks, and do it all peacefully. That’s what happened in the civil rights movement in the United States and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa.

If we are brutally honest with ourselves about the response of our governments to petitioning, dialogue, and other normal campaigning, we’d see that such methods have not delivered the kind of results we need. I think you will be seeing more and more civil disobedience.

What one message do you want the TckTckTck campaign to send to world leaders?

That the cost of failing to agree to a fair, ambitious, and binding deal in Copenhagen will be devastating for every single country on this planet. If we don’t act now, the world will pay a very high price in the future, both financially and socially.

What lessons do you draw from your experiences working to end apartheid?

It’s important to build as much unity as possible. We must encourage people to focus on the considerable number of areas where they agree and to respect where they have differences. We also need sacrifice, courage, commitment, and strong leadership across all sectors of society—faith, trade unions, NGOs, and the business community. And we must always look for allies within the government.


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