Online climate strikes: XR turns to digital activism amid coronavirus pandemic

Extinction Rebellion's (XR) Youth arm has taken its campaign to demand that fossil fuel representatives are excluded from COP26 negotiations online, after pausing mass demonstrations in light of the coronavirus.

Image: XR Youth members at a march last year

Image: XR Youth members at a march last year

XR Youth, instead of staging marches through city centres and protests at the offices of fossil fuel firms as planned, will today (20 March) carry out what it describes as a “cyberstorm”.

The direct action will see young people across Europe “bombard” fossil fuel firms with social media messaging urging commitments not to partake in negotiations on key agreements at COP26 this November. Activists will also persistently call these firms’ business lines and send them emails.

XR Youth said in a statement that the aim of the “cyberstorm”, beyond raising public awareness of the fossil fuel sector’s involvement in national and international climate discussions, is to “disrupt polluting companies’ businesses for a day and possibly longer”.

Aside from fossil fuel firms, activists will also persistently send digital communications to world leaders and other “key figures” involved with the Paris Agreement – such as its architects; national ministers for energy and environment; and business leaders.  

Groups including the UK Student Climate Network (UKSCN) and Fridays for Future will support the digital activism, in light of Greta Thunberg’s recent call for all climate-related strikes to be moved online to help nations deliver effective public health responses to Covid 19.

“We are not going to pause our activism just because we can’t gather in the streets,” XR Youth said in a statement. “We must adapt and find new forms of resistance.”

Given that global fossil fuel demands are falling as the global manufacturing and transport sectors downsize or suspend operations, the demonstration comes at a time when many fossil fuel firms are already under pressure to change their business models and climate approaches.

All change for COP?

The demonstration comes in the wake of COP25 in Madrid last December – a summit whose outcomes have repeatedly been dubbed “disappointing” and “lacklustre”.

The summit’s final texts were published a full 40 hours after the deadline, with many observers stating that fossil fuel representatives – and world leaders from nations with large fossil fuel sectors – had slowed negotiations.

Ultimately, the final text contained no new requirements for UN member states. Specific frameworks around matters such as ‘Loss and Damage’ and international carbon trading were pushed back to COP26.

In the days that followed COP25, green campaigners warned that the summit’s weak conclusions would place extra pressure on the organisers of COP26 at the UK and Italian Governments.

The months that have followed have only seen that pressure intensify – firstly, through Boris Johnson’s decision to hand the COP26 presidency from Claire O’Neill to Alok Sharma as part of a wider cabinet reshuffle and summit delivery plan, and secondly, through the coronavirus pandemic.  

The UN Climate Change (UNFCCC) secretariat Patricia Espinosa announced this week that the body will not host any physical meetings until the beginning of May at the earliest. It is looking increasingly likely, however, that those restrictions will be extended even further, potentially forcing the UK and Italy to postpone or defer COP26.

This week saw the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) begin to quiz experts on how the UK can “make a success of COP26”.  edie’s content editor Matt Mace has rounded up the key coronavirus-related points from that session – and looked at the potential impacts which a summit delay could have on international climate action – in this exclusive feature.

Sarah George



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