Police arrest more than 600 as protesters make clear climate change isn’t going away

The Canary

More than 600 people have been arrested during five days of climate change protests in central London, police have said.

Back on the agenda

Environmental campaign group Extinction Rebellion (XR) reignited its efforts to highlight the dangers of climate change this month after they were largely placed on hold by the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that the world has 12 years to limit global warming to 1.5C. Temperatures over this would “significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people”. Despite this warning – and others before it – CO2 emissions failed to decrease in 2019 – although they did flatten following two years of increase. Emissions would need to be reduced to “net zero” to avoid catastrophic climate change, according to reports.

In a series of daily actions, protesters have marched on Parliament Square, blocked roads, staged sit-ins and glued themselves to the ground. It led the Metropolitan Police to impose conditions on where demonstrations could take place. Protesters were also warned they risked a large fine if they failed to comply with coronavirus rules banning gatherings of more than 30 people.

Scotland Yard said on Saturday 5 September that 20 people had been reported for consideration of a £10,000 Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) for holding regulation-breaching gatherings representing a range of different causes. Police said the FPN reports related to demonstrations called “Resist the Government”, “Move One Million”, “The Ivory Coast Protest”, “Citizens’ Assembly Extinction Rebellion”, and “The Lightship Greta procession”.

One penalty report relates to an anti-government demonstration which took place in Trafalgar Square on 30 August, the Met said.

 

“Burning the future”

A 68-year-old protester, who only gave her name as Wendy, said she was concerned that “the planet is dying and we’re helping it to die”. She said police had been “courteous”, but she was prepared to be arrested.

Another 32-year-old protester, who asked to be identified as just Jason, claimed the government was “completely ignoring” climate change. “It’s not something that can wait any more. This whole thing is people power”, he said. “I’m willing to be arrested, I’m willing to stand up for my rights and stand up for what I believe in”.

Jason said “99%” of protesters were wearing masks and trying to social distance.

A five-a-side football match was also staged underneath Nelson’s Column to highlight criticism of Barclays. Protesters claimed the bank, a partner and former title sponsor of the Premier League, is the “largest funder of fossil fuels in Europe”.

Meanwhile, police said they had seized the “Lightship Greta”, a 20ft model boat named after teenage activist Greta Thunberg, in Kennington, south London. The boat, bearing the words “Sound the alarm – Climate Emergency”, had been marched on foot from Brighton.

“Disruption”

Commander Kyle Gordon, gold commander for the weekend’s policing operation, said protests had caused “serious disruption to local communities” in the past week. He added:

Throughout this period we have become increasingly concerned the organisers of these events have not always taken all reasonable measures to limit the risk of transmission of coronavirus, thereby posing a risk, not only to those involved, but the wider public and communities of London.

He said officers sought to enforce coronavirus legislation “as a last resort” and had proactively told event organisers of their “public health risk”.

Darcy Mitchell, 45, from Bristol, told the PA news agency:

I’m here because scientists tell us that my children are going to see between three and five degrees of global warning in their lifetime.

He warned this could lead to “mass starvation”, while young people were seeing the world “burning their future”.

Extinction Rebellion protests
Protesters were removed by police officers during an Extinction Rebellion protest in London’s Trafalgar Square (Yui Mok)

Commander Gordon added:

I would appeal to anyone planning on organising a gathering to consider your responsibilities under the regulations, and to do all you can to help keep our communities safe.

Citizens Assemble

On the afternoon of Saturday 5 September, an XR “Citizens Assemble!” gathering was dispersed by police in Trafalgar Square. During the peaceful protest outside the National Gallery, activists sat on the ground and listened to speeches while surrounded by a large police presence.

Officers asked the group to move on, with most dispersing by around 2.30pm. Some that refused to leave the area were carried or led away by police, including one man in handcuffs.

Extinction Rebellion protests
Police officers during an Extinction Rebellion protest in Trafalgar Square (Yui Mok/PA)

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