As wave of protests enter their second week and Greta Thunberg backs calls for a climate 'general strike', leading green business figures welcome launch of XR Business
The Extinction Rebellion (XR) protests have entered their second week with campaigners poised to step up calls for political and corporate leaders to embrace bolder decarbonisation strategies in response to the escalating 'climate emergency'.
Following a dramatic Easter Weekend which saw the arrest count for the past week top 1,000, police took back control of three of the main protest sites at Waterloo Bridge, Oxford Circus, and Parliament Square. The Metropolitan Police confirmed yesterday that 1,065 arrests had been made and 53 people charged in relation to the protests, making XR the largest single act of civil disobedience in modern British history. Protestors have now congregated at a site at Marble Arch where Mayor Sadiq Khan has given approval for activists to gather.
It remains unclear how the protests will evolve in their second scheduled week. The group released a statement yesterday hailing the first wave of protests as a success and suggesting a new phase for the campaign based on 'negotiations' to try and advance its practical demands. But it also stressed that such a shift in strategy was subject to agreement within the group.
"'Phase One' has been a huge success," XR said. "Holding the locations brought enormous attention to our cause: from press to politicians to punters… We've succeeded in getting our message across - even to our critics. This success can be expressed in numbers: at the most conservative estimate we've welcomed 30,000 new members, and have received almost £300,000 in crowdfunding, the great majority of donations being around of £10. And if it's a metric you're into, we've had almost 1,000 brave people arrested."
The group also saw its support expand over the weekend with the official launch of XR Business, a new arm of the campaign described as "an evolving platform for people in business who understand that business as usual is not going to work anymore".
The group was launched with a letter in The Times signed by a host of leading lights in the green business community, including former CEO of Unilever Paul Polman, founder of Ecotricity Dale Vince, The Eden Project's Sir Tim Smit, founder of Solarcentury Jeremy Leggett, Chris Davis, CSO at The Body Shop International, Safia Minney, founder and former CEO at People Tree Fair Trade group, and Diana Verde Nieto, CEO and co-founder, Positive Luxury Ltd, as well as senior executives at a host of sustainable investment firms, including WHEB, Zouk Capital, Next Energy Capital, and Triodos Bank UK.
"The multi million-pound costs that the Extinction Rebellion protests have imposed on business are regrettable, as is the inconvenience to Londoners," the letter states. "But future costs imposed on our economies by the climate emergency will be many orders of magnitude greater."
It adds that "contrary to belief, there is business support for the Extinction Rebellion agenda" and welcomes the formation of the new XR Business grouping to engage business leaders, investors and advisers. "To drive things forward, the idea is to convene a meeting of XR activists and experts with business leaders and influencers," the letter explains. "Most businesses were not designed in the context of the developing climate emergency. Hence we must urgently redesign entire industries and businesses, using science-based targets."
The signatories to the letter also call on other business leaders to "make a declaration that we face a climate emergency and organise a session at a full board meeting to consider the case for urgent action".
XR is calling for the government to declare a 'climate emergency', set a target to deliver a net zero emission economy by 2025, and set up a People's Assembly to discuss how deep and rapid decarbonisation could be achieved - proposals the government is yet to respond to.
Meanwhile, the protests secured further high profile backing this weekend as former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres hailed the "powerful and courageous" acts of civil disobedience from XR and the School Strikes movement. In a video message one of the chief architects of the Paris Agreement declared that the protests would not solve the problem of climate change on their own and may be inconvenient, but they are "waking everyone up to the fact that we do have an emergency on climate change - we are simply not acting fast enough".
The protests were also given a further boost by the arrival of Greta Thunberg, who attended a series of events across London and will today meet with Westminster political leaders.
At a public meeting yesterday, the founder of the global School Strikes movement confirmed her support for the XR protests. "I support Extinction Rebellion," she said. "What they are doing is good. Civil disobedience is important to show this is an emergency. We need to do everything we can to put pressure on the people in power. Why study for a future that is being taken from us? Why study for facts when facts don't matter in this society? It's empowering to know I am doing something, I am taking a stand, I am disrupting."
She also signalled her support for wider disruptive action, responding to a question from Franny Armstrong, the director of the climate documentary The Age of Stupid, on whether it was time for a general strike with a simple "yes".
Thunberg is today expected to meet with Westminster political leaders, with the exception of Theresa May who failed to accept an invitation from Green MP Caroline Lucas to join other Party leaders in a cross-party discussion with the campaigner. Environment Secretary Michael Gove is slated to attend on behalf of the government.
Looking forward to welcoming @gretathunberg & @climate4youth to parliament today.— Caroline Lucas (@CarolineLucas) April 23, 2019
Their message couldn't be more urgent - follow the science, not what's deemed "politically possible".
Delighted Party leaders will meet them - all except Theresa May...
Speaking in an interview on BBC Radio 4's The Today Programme this morning, Thunberg said she would reiterate her message for political leaders to respond to scientists' warnings in a commensurate fashion.
"Listen to the science, listen to the scientists. Invite them to talk," she said. "I am just speaking on behalf of them, I'm trying to say what they've been saying for decades."
Separately, leading Labour backbencher, Stella Creasy, became the latest political figure to back one of XR's demands, writing to Gove with an offer to work on a cross party basis to "develop and champion" a Citizen's Assembly as a means of breaking the current "deadlock" on climate policy and "involve the public in finding a way forward on climate change".
Today I have written to @michaelgove to encourage him to be open to @extinctionrebellion and the call for a citizens assembly on climate change and to help build x-party support for it. My letter and reasons here 👉 pic.twitter.com/As0my2QgVE— stellacreasy (@stellacreasy) April 22, 2019
However, at the same time as support for XR grew, pressure on activists to wrap up their protests also stepped up over the weekend with a host of leading politicians and commentators lining up to criticise XR's demands and tactics.
In his column in the Telegraph, former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Conservative leadership frontrunner attacked the protestors, accusing them of hypocrisy and declaring that he is "utterly fed up with being told by nice young people that their opinions are more important than my own".
Johnson did signal his support for the UK setting a goal to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 - as the government is set to consider in the coming months - arguing it could be achieved "not through hair-shirted leftyism but solid Tory technological optimism". But he also argued the UK government had a good track record on cutting emissions compared to other countries and as such protestors should "take their pink boat to Tiananmen Square, and lecture them in the way they have been lecturing us".
Meanwhile, both the head of the Met Police Cressida Dick and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan urged protestors to remain within the designated protest site at Marble Arch, warning they were now placing an excessive burden on police resources and the capital's economy.
In a statement Khan said he was now "extremely concerned" about the impact the protests were having on the police's ability to tackle other issues, such as violent crime. "My message to all protestors today is clear: you must now let London return to business as usual," he declared, deploying a turn of phrase that sparked sharp criticism on social media from those campaigners who were quick to point out that a drastic change to "business as usual" was their most important demand.
UPDATE: My message to all the climate change protestors today is clear: let London return to business as usual. pic.twitter.com/2o5jwbwLC2— Sadiq Khan (@SadiqKhan) April 21, 2019
Whether the capital does return to "business as usual" this week or whether the Easter of Extinction Rebellion marks a tipping point in political and corporate awareness of the scale of the climate threat remains to be seen. But for now XR are hailing the first phase of what looks set to be a long running campaign as a major success.
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