Extinction Rebellion: Two weeks of climate protests kick off as Parliament returns

Extinction Rebellion (XR) has this week begun a two-week programme of in-person demonstrations across cities including London, Manchester and Cardiff, timed to coincide with the reconvening of Parliament after the summer recess.

Extinction Rebellion: Two weeks of climate protests kick off as Parliament returns

The protestors are calling for MPs to back the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill

After marching on Parliament Square in London, City Hall in Cardiff and St Peter’s Square in Manchester earlier today (1 September), members of the group will be staging sit-ins at these three locations for up to ten days.

They have said that they will only stop congregating and blocking roads surrounding these locations if MPs agree to back the Climate and Ecological Emergency (CEE) Bill.

Spearheaded in Parliament by Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, the Bill would see the UK go beyond its 2050 net-zero target by accounting for its entire carbon footprint – domestically and overseas. At present, international shipping and aviation is excluded from calculations, for example. The Bill would also bind policymakers to prioritise existing climate solutions over emerging technologies, as recommended by Project Drawdown and Chatham House, and to give greater powers to the citizens’ assembly on climate change.

“Rebels will choose to sit in the streets – overnight if necessary – to maintain a constant presence and pressure until our voices are truly heard,” XR organisers wrote in a Facebook post.

Aside from the sit-ins, XR members are planning to dress up in circus costumes outside the Treasury, creating a “carnival of corruption”. This event will draw attention to the discrepancies between the Government’s commitment to leave the environment in a better state than it was found and the measures unveiled at the 2020 Budget, including a multi-billion-pound roads scheme and a freeze on fuel duty. The Treasury’s decision to issue billion-pound bailouts for carbon-intensive companies and sectors, without environmental requirements, is also being criticised here.

Similar demonstrations are planned for the roads surrounding the Bank of England and Buckingham Palace.

In the run-up to these events, XR’s regional branches have been hosting smaller protests over the late August Bank Holiday weekend. Bristol-based members occupied the city’s airport to oppose a planned expansion, and also blockaded Clifton Suspension Bridge. Airport occupations also occurred at Leeds and Gatwick. In Southend-on-Sea, a Titanic-themed tea party was held on the beach to draw attention to sea-level rise. In Brighton, activists paraded a model lighthouse named after Greta Thunberg along the seafront, past the British-Airways-sponsored i360.

Members in all parts of the UK have also been encouraged to paste stickers to petrol pumps, drawing attention to the health impacts of fossil fuels.

Digital strike

The demonstrations are the first to have been organised by XR for several months.

Amid lockdown restrictions, the group, like many others, turned to digital events. Its Youth arm has spent the past six months staging a string of digital demonstration and providing webinars in the place of training events and in-person speeches. “Cyberstorms” – where members incessantly message and Tweet at high-emitting and high-polluting industries – have proven particularly popular.

It is understood that XR is asking all protest attendees to wear masks and to practice social distancing as real-life protests resume. Certain regional branches have been hosting smaller, socially distanced events since restrictions first began to ease a few weeks ago, including Brighton, where activists have been calling on fast fashion brands to support their supply chain workers throughout Covid-19.

Due to the scale of this latest round of protests, the police have warned XR that it could face a £10,000 fine for each gathering of 30 or more people it organises, in line with short-term legislation to combat the spread of the virus. Last year’s XR protests saw more than 1,700 people arrested.

While businesses have not given their public backing to this round of strikes, as they did last September, the CEE Bill itself is being supported by Volans, Business Declares, doctors, legal experts and universities.

Sarah George

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