Who are climate change group activists Extinction Rebellion and what are they protesting about?

·5-min read

On Friday, September 2 Extinction Rebellion (or XR) supporters superglued themselves in a circle around the Speakers Chair inside the House of Commons.

The protest group also read out a speech to the empty Parliament chamber demanding a citizens’ assembly on climate change.

The campaign group tweeted a photo showing three women standing hand in hand in front of the green leather chair where the Speaker sits when parliament is in session. Two men stood either side holding banners, which read “let the people decide” and “citizens assembly now”.

At the same time, another member climbed up the scaffolding around Big Ben and held a huge banner that read: “Let the people decide: citizens’ assemblies now”. Two others chained themselves to the railings surrounding the building.

A Commons spokesperson said: “We are aware of an incident on the parliamentary estate and are currently dealing with the situation as a matter of urgency.”

The Metropolitan police tweeted: “The Met is aware of a demonstration by a number protesters at the Palace of Westminster. Met police and parliamentary staff are responding.”

But more protests are expected to be on their way from Extinction Rebellion. In a statement, XR described the actions as the “opening act” for further protests it has planned this month, including a three-day occupation of Hyde Park, “which itself will act as a launch event for a five-phase plan to bring 100,000 people on to the streets in civil resistance next spring”.

Here is everything you need to know about the environmental protest group Extinction Rebellion.

Who are Extinction Rebellion?

Extinction Rebellion is a protest movement for climate change activists. Formed in the UK in May 2018, the group held its first protests in London in October.

The group uses non-violent civil disobedience to campaign on environmental issues such as climate breakdown, biodiversity loss and ecological collapse.

It says climate change threatens all life on Earth and is calling for "radical change in order to minimise the risk of human extinction and ecological collapse" because "our leaders are failing in their duty".

So far demonstrations have taken place all over the world, and have included a semi-naked protest in the House of Commons.

From a grass roots campaign, it has now grown into an international movement with chapters across the world backed by celebrities, academics and writers.

It is calling upon the Government to meet three key points, which are:

  • To “tell the truth” by declaring a climate and ecological emergency.

  • To “act now” with means to “halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net by 2025”.

  • To create a citizen’s assembly on climate change and ecological justice which would lead Government action.

What does Extinction Rebellion want?

The group says direct action is needed to force governments to act urgently on climate change and wildlife declines and halt a "sixth mass extinction".

It is calling for an ecological emergency to be declared, greenhouse gases to be brought to net zero by 2025, and the creation of a citizens' assembly to lead action on the environment.

XR says the systems propping up "modern consumer-focused lifestyles" will lead to mass water shortages, crop failures, sea level rises and the displacement of millions.

"Only a peaceful planet-wide mobilisation of the scale of the Second World War will give us a chance to avoid the worst-case scenarios," it says.

What are its methods?

XR uses what is calls "non-violent civil disobedience" as the world has "run out of the luxury of time to react incrementally".

Demonstrations include blocking busy roads and bridges and spray-painting government buildings.

Activists have also chained and glued themselves to buildings, including the gates of Buckingham Palace.

A colourful catwalk show took over London's busy Oxford Circus junction in 2019 to highlight the environmental impact of the fashion industry, while semi-naked activists glued themselves to windows in the public gallery of the House of Commons during a Brexit debate.

And in October 2019, the group tried to shut down London City Airport for three days before abandoning their plans after just one, and they have blockaded the BBC in an attempt to shut it down.

On November 4 2021, Extinction Rebellion demonstrators blocked the Schlumberger Gould Research Centre in west Cambridge to oppose the research into fossil fuel extraction by an American corporation. The demonstration was scheduled to coincide with the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, which is focusing on energy.

Extinction Rebellion says it wants ecocide, the deliberate destruction of the natural environment, to be listed alongside crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide and crimes of aggression.

How did it build momentum?

In its first protest on 31 October 2018, the group assembled a protest on Parliament Square in London, expecting a "couple of hundred people" - before 1,500 showed up.

The group said: "The energy was contagious! The next few weeks were a whirlwind.

"Six thousand of us converged on London to peacefully block five major bridges across the Thames."

Chapters now exist in dozens of countries including the US, the Solomon Islands, Australia, Spain, South Africa and India, it said.

Protests in London began in April with campaigners saying at the time they wanted to bring the capital to a standstill.

Activists in at least 80 cities in more than 33 countries held similar demonstrations on environmental issues.

In November 2018, five bridges across the River Thames in London were blockaded as a protest. Demonstrators occupied Southwark, Blackfriars, Waterloo, Westminster and Lambeth bridges for most of the day on 17 November. They later moved on from the crossings to a rally in Parliament Square.

In April 2022, activists from XR blocked key bridges across London. Protestors had been arrested after climbing oil tankers, anchoring themselves to structures, or blocking roads at oil depots. Nine people were charged after Just Stop Oil, an XR affiliate, held a demonstration at an oil terminal near Tamworth, Staffordshire.