Extinction Rebellion (XR) has announced it is to mount a new wave of civil disobedience across the UK, saying that under the British government the City of London remains an “arch financier” of global carbon emissions, and police crackdowns have only served to invigorate the environmental movement.
The group said it is seeking to highlight the “considerable” contribution of the UK’s financial sector to the climate crisis, and aims to draw attention to the government’s role in supporting polluting industries.
Beginning in Trafalgar Square on Monday 23 August, XR is to stage two weeks of protests, in which they expect thousands of people to take to the streets.
Following a summer of unprecedented extreme weather across the world, concern over the worsening climate crisis has become an increasingly visible part of international politics.
The action comes three months ahead of the UN’s Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow, for which prime minister Boris Johnson has been at pains to paint the UK as a “climate leader”.
Speaking to journalists on Thursday, an XR panel explained why they were taking action.
Tim Crossland, a barrister and director of Plan B – a charity which supports legal action against the climate crisis – said the protests, named the “Impossible Rebellion”, were taking place because “it’s impossible to believe that we could knowingly invest in destruction of the conditions that make our planet inhabitable, and do nothing about it”.
XR said they were not revealing exactly what actions they had planned, as in the past they said this had resulted in greater efforts by the police to prevent and disruption, but Mr Crossland outlined two key aspects of the action.
He said these included “holding the crisis talks which our government should be holding”, because “it’s not happening”.
“We will invite people from across the country to talk together about what is happening and what we’re going to do about it,” he said.
Secondly, Mr Crossland said: “We’ll be targeting the city of London. We’ll be targeting the city of London because it’s time that people understand the contribution of the UK to this crisis.”
Citing research by the insurance company Aviva, which suggested the current way the companies in the FTSE 100 index were run meant the world was looking at an additional 4C of temperature rises, Mr Crossland said authorities had begun to stop denying the existence of the climate crisis, but instead of taking action, were trying to change the narrative around the crisis.
He said: “What we’re seeing more and more is the age of denialism propagated by those with vested interests is over.
“We’re seeing the crisis, so now the shift is the government propaganda which is trying to tell us that ‘the UK is leading the way, the UK is a climate leader, it’s everybody else that has a problem’.
“It’s just not true. It’s propaganda. What’s true is production emissions are coming down because we’ve transitioned from an industrialised economy because we’ve exhausted all our own non-renewable resources and exploited those of countries around the world for centuries, but we’re now a service economy. The heart of that service economy is the financial economy in the City of London.
“The City of London is the arch financier of the carbon economy. It supports 15 per cent of all carbon emissions around the world. It hosts BP, Shell, Glencore, Anglo-American, and Russian oil and gas companies such as Gazprom and Rosneft.
“The world’s largest energy company Saudi Aramco raised $12bn via the UK debt markets,” he added.
Asked if the UK’s new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which has been labelled “a step towards authoritarianism”, could put off those who might otherwise attend the demonstrations, XR said they believed it could have the opposite effect, highlighting the need for systemic change.
The bill has been criticised by parliament’s joint committee on human rights, who said its proposals are “oppressive and wrong”. These include components which will restrict the right to protest, with “serious annoyance” carrying a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
Responding to a question by The Independent, XR’s Paul Stephens, a former detective with the Met Police, said: “Am I personally concerned? Yes, very concerned about the PCSC Bill. Do I think it will put people off? Overwhelmingly I think not. Most people who have read the science and realised the threat that we’re facing, have no choice.
“They have realised that there are sections of our society actually [preventing] the mitigation of climate change for profit. There’s nothing you can do except for get out on the streets with the message that we’re not going to tolerate that.
“In a way [the bill] has the reverse effect. It doesn’t put people off, it actually makes them more [determined].”
He added: “My grandparents fought fascism in the war, and I learned from them, that when you get bullied, you don’t put up with it. You stand up for yourself. It takes a lot for the British people to do that, but once they get to that point you’re not going to put them off with new legislation when you’re looking at millions of deaths.”
“People understand from the IPCC report, that not only is it ‘code red’, and much more serious than we thought, but also that it’s manmade. The message for a while was that ‘our home’s on fire’. But now we know it’s arson.”
XR spokesperson Clare Farrell also highlighted how recent legal cases against XR activists had been overturned, resulting in greater confidence in the legal system supporting legitimate protest.
The Independent has contacted the government for comment.