‘The Big One’: 30,000 protesters expected to descend on London for pickets and performances

‘The Big One’: 30,000 protesters expected to descend on London for pickets and performances

30,000 people are set to gather outside the Houses of Parliament in London this weekend demanding that the UK government stop all new fossil fuel searches immediately.

Extinction Rebellion (XR) activists will be standing alongside campaigners from 200 other organisations from 21-24 April. The weekend will include 117 events and 90 speakers and performers.

It’s been four years since XR brought parts of the English capital to a standstill, parking a pink boat in Oxford Circus and resulting in the UK parliament declaring a climate emergency.

But, says Greenpeace UK’s head of climate, Mel Evans: “The UK government is failing to deliver the kind of wholesale action needed to avoid full-blown climate breakdown.

“That's despite the stark warnings of ‘act now, or it will be too late’ from the global scientific community just this week.”

Releasing their synthesis report on the latest climate science last month, scientists at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that the carbon budget for 1.5C of global warming will be exhausted by 2030 if we keep on emitting at our current rate.

What are the protesters asking for?

XR and 200 other organisations, including Greenpeace and War on Want, are "demanding that the UK government stop the search for new fossil fuels immediately in a transition towards reparatory justice. This should be led by emergency citizens’ assemblies to let the people decide how to end the fossil fuel era quickly and fairly."

The coalition say that if government ministers fail to respond by the end of their protests, XR and allies will "step up their campaigns and actions across the country to force them to do so."

In a press conference, they said, "We will be taking more radical action because the clock is ticking for every human and non-human alive today. We are not going to stand quietly by while time runs out and we all face the worst suffering possible."

‘Impossible to ignore’: What is happening at the Big One?

Victoria Jones/AP
Parliament Square is a frequent site of the protest in the UK. Thousands gathered here on 13 March to protest against the Illegal Migration Bill. - Victoria Jones/AP

Since bursting onto the global stage a few years ago, Extinction Rebellion has been doing some soul-searching of its own. In a New Year’s statement titled ‘We Quit’, the protest group famed for its disruptive tactics announced it would now “prioritise attendance over arrest and relationships over roadblocks.”

The Big One is the first major event since this resolution. Pitching up outside the Houses of Parliament in Westminster from 21 to 24 April, it promises to be family-friendly, accessible, welcoming, creative and engaging.

Rob Callender of Extinction Rebellion says that since they announced 'We Quit' "the government has made policy announcements that effectively double down on deadly climate chaos. This is their last chance to show us that they are serious about saving our lives and our futures by agreeing to enter negotiations around our demands.

A failure to do so will mean that Extinction Rebellion has no choice but to unquit – and to step up our campaign to force the government to take the drastic and radical actions necessary to avoid runaway climate change. This time, we’re not alone - allies from this 200-strong bloc will be stepping up alongside us.”

Who will be speaking and performing at the Big One?

The Big One's line-up is a mixture of big names in the climate movement and performers from across the musical spectrum.

Speakers include Caroline Lucas, former leader of the UK's Green Party, Chris Packham, naturalist, author, and television presenter and Sir David King, Head of the Climate Crisis Advisory Group and former Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK government.

Confirmed performers include folk singer Martha Tilston, comedian Mark Thomas, psych pop band She Drew the Gun and the Dan Spanner Big Band.

The full programme is available here.

Which organisations are behind the Big One?

AFP/Tolga Akmen
Actress Emma Thompson atop the pink boat in Oxford Circus, used as a stage during Extinction Rebellion’s uprising in April 2019. - AFP/Tolga Akmen

An unusually broad alliance of environmental NGOs, trade unionists, anti-racism campaigners and climate activists are co-organising the event next month.

More than 30 organisations are listed as supporters, from single-issue protest groups like Right to Roam and Don’t Pay UK to older, broad-based NGOs Earthday.org and CAFOD.

Euronews Green spoke to a few organisations about why they’re championing the collective approach.

Friends of the Earth: The Big One aligns with how we work

“With the cost of living and climate crises escalating and government action failing to match the scale of these emergencies, we think it’s vital to be part of this demonstration bringing together diverse organisations from across environmental, health, housing, workers and social justice movements,” says Dave Timms, head of political affairs at Friends of the Earth.

The NGO has a long history of supporting non-violent, lawful actions to protect communities and the environment, he says. It has a less radical reputation than XR or Greenpeace; its official position does not, for example, endorse “indiscriminate and purposeless damage to property.”

That hasn’t always made FoE the easiest bedfellow for other activist groups whose members are willing to get arrested. But the Big One is a collaboration it can get wholeheartedly behind.

“Extinction Rebellion is clear that they are designing the protest to be peaceful, safe and inclusive and are in regular contact with the police in order to facilitate the event taking place,” says Timms.

“It’s also an important time to be defending and supporting the right to peaceful protest as it’s increasingly under threat from multiple angles, including the use of anti-protest injunctions, and draconian legislation like the Public Order Bill.”

Global Justice Now: The idea is to foster a generational movement

Praising the “vital role” that XR has played in the past, director of Global Justice Now Nick Dearden says that the Big One’s potential lies in its inclusivity. April’s mass action can help foster a “generational movement.”

“The desire to make this broad doesn’t mean we’re any less radical in our demands,” Dearden says. “We need to fundamentally transform the way our economy works, nationally and globally, and we’re in no doubt about the scale of the challenge in front of us to achieve that.”

Greenpeace: We win as a movement

“It’s clear that only through working together will civil society defeat the vested interests intent on putting profits over people and the planet,” says Mel Evans, head of climate at Greenpeace UK.

“We either win as a movement or lose as individual organisations. That’s why The Big One promises to be such a key moment in the fight for climate justice and why we’re getting involved.”

Fossil Free London: A moment to recall our power and unity

Fossil Free London’s raison d’etre is to make the capital as inhospitable as possible to the fossil fuel industry. It is very much disruptive to oil and gas bosses - crashing former Shell CEO Ben van Beurden’s leaving party, for example, and interrupting a speech by BP head Bernard Looney in London last month.

Spokesperson Robin Wells explains why a big turnout for the Big One is so important.

“The climate crisis can be easy to ignore because it is continuous. It exists in the periphery of our attention all the time - in the weather when we wake up in the morning, the prices of the food we buy at the shops, and on the fringe of the news reports that we watch when we get home.

“The climate crisis can be easy to ignore because it is continuous. It exists in the periphery of our attention all the time - in the weather when we wake up in the morning, the prices of the food we buy at the shops, and on the fringe of the news reports that we watch when we get home.

“But there are moments that cut through and grab our attention. One is the release of scary warnings from scientists like in [yesterday’s] IPCC report. Another is freak temperatures beyond what we’d have ever imagined, and another one, that we campaigners can make happen, are moments in which we are brought together and reminded of our power and unity in shaping the world we want to see. The Big One will be one such moment.”

How can you get involved with the Big One?

More than 28,000 people have so far RSVP’d yes, according to Extinction Rebellion’s official count. All the main information is on its website, including ways to volunteer and donate.

Supporting organisations - also including PCS Union, War on Want and Women of Colour Global Strike - will have guidance for their members too. Or you can simply turn up on any of the four days between 21 and 24 April.

“If we connect with each other, we can make changes in society that amount to so much more than sorting our glass from our paper,” adds Wells.

“People who feel the scale of the crisis we face and find themselves thinking that recycling can’t be enough action should come to the Big One and find out how they can make powerful change."