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‘We need system change’: Climate protestors blockade London roads as ‘Festival of Action’ kicks off


Waterloo Bridge, Oxford Circus and Marble Arch all brought to standstill as climate protestors try to disrupt ‘business as usual’

Thousands of climate protestors have taken to the streets of London today, bringing traffic at major intersections to a total stand-still as part of an orchestrated “rebellion” against the ongoing climate crisis.

From Marble Arch to Waterloo Bridge, Oxford Circus, Piccadilly Circus and Parliament Square, protestors have blockaded key bridges, roads and intersections across the capital, and plan to stand their ground for a number of days.

The protests were organised by the grassroots climate group Extinction Rebellion (XR), which is demanding the UK government and businesses take bolder action to address the “climate emergency” facing the world. XR’s demands include a government plan to make the UK ‘carbon neutral’ by 2025, backed by the creation of a people’s assembly and the formal declaration of a ‘climate emergency’.

XR launched in October last year and has grown quickly since, staging a number of headline-grabbing protests to raise awareness about climate change – including a naked protest inside Parliament during a Brexit debate last month.

The group’s emergence has coincided with global school strikes over climate change, as public awareness over the seriousness of the climate threat has intensified. 

David Batty, 66, was one of hundreds of protestors in Parliament Square this afternoon. “It’s time that we started taking the climate crisis seriously,” he told BusinessGreen. “Some really radical actions are needed, we can’t just go on, on a business-as-usual basis. If we want to avert climate catastrophe it’s going to take some really serious changes in the way we live. Government need to wake up, and people need to wake up as well. That’s why I’m here.”

A recent report from the world’s top climate scientists, the IPCC, warned there is only 12 years left to rewire the global economy and dramatically cut carbon emissions if catastrophic climate change is to be avoided. 

The potential impacts of climate change are already becoming a major concern for businesses and investors around the world. Worried about massive disruption to economies in the event of catastrophic warming, some corporates have gone further than governments in promising to eliminate net carbon emissions from their operations by mid century or earlier. Meanwhile investors are, in growing numbers, pulling their cash from high-carbon projects and re-investing in greener alternatives. 

But despite the mounting concern, global emissions are still rising. Last year energy-related emissions hit a record high as coal use increased across Asia. Governments have so far failed, despite promises, to draw up carbon plans in line with the Paris Agreement’s target of limiting warming to “well below” two degrees. 

Today’s actions are part of series of XR protests planned across 80 cities in 30 countries in the coming days. Echoing the Occupy movement of 2011-2012, the protestors plan to bring traffic to halt for as long as possible across London.

To that end, today activists parked a pink boat with a soundsystem in the middle of Oxford Circus to block the roads; erected solar panels, a skate ramp and arranged trees across Waterloo Bridge; and played football in the road at Marble Arch. Protestors also targeted Shell’s London headquarters, gluing themselves to the oil giant’s glass entrance doors and spraying graffiti on the building.

extinction rebellion protest xr climate change waterloo shell headquartersActivists outside Shell’s former headquarters in Waterloo this afternoon

In addition, activists blocked all roads leading in to Parliament Square just outside the House of Commons, before staging a march led by a brass band in the style of a mock funeral procession.

Siobhan, 33, attended the protests today with her partner Hugh and children Aoifa, 4, and Finn, 1. She said they were not “hardened activists”, but that last year’s IPCC report on climate change had given them “a bit of a kick up the arse about it”. 

“[The XR movement] feels broader than maybe the traditional coalition of people who have been fighting for environmental causes,” she told BusinessGreen.

On a personal level, she and her family said they have recently decided to stop flying, and now only eat meat around once a fortnight.

“But there’s always more we could do,” she added. “We do quite a lot to try and cut our personal carbon footprint, but we need more than that – we need system change.”

extinction rebellion protest xr climate change parliament squareActivists marching in Parliament Square

Similar protests are springing up around the world. Earlier today the main roundabout outside the European Commission in Brussels was blocked by XR protestors, while protests also erupted in Germany, Sweden, and Australia.

“This is not about another march,” XR said today in a statement. “Groups across the world will disrupt ‘business as usual’. Ordinary citizens, terrified by the threat we all face to our future, will risk arrest and imprisonment by blocking bridges, roads, harbours and transport systems. Die-ins, cry-ins, funerals, banner drops, ‘blood’ spilling, art and theatre will be part of a festival of global protest. In London, people are willing to be arrested and to stay.”

extinction rebellion protest xr climate change waterloo bridge skate parkProtestors arranged trees and erected a skate ramp as they blocked Waterloo Bridge today

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Source: – Business Green