Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 24 May 2019

Climate protesters bring the streets of Europe to a standstill

A Greenpeace-organised demonstration targeted multinational corporations in Paris

Protesters blocked access to multinational corporations in France on Friday, while youth activists in London staged a peaceful protest outside Britain's busiest airport as part of a wave of demonstrations urging governments to act against climate change.

Activist group Extinction Rebellion started a fifth day of protests outside Heathrow airport. Campaigners, predominantly under the age of the 30, wept and sang on the roadside around a mile away from two of the terminals.

Around a dozen teenagers, some as young as 13, held a banner which read "Are we the last generation?"

British actress Emma Thompson told crowds "our planet is in trouble" at a gathering of protesters in Oxford Circus, central London.

The Nanny McPhee star spoke from a pink boat, which officials said had been locked to the ground by the activists.

Police officers later encircled the boat, which had "Tell the Truth" written on its side.

A protest organised by Greenpeace saw activists prevent hundreds of employees from getting to work at the headquarters of French bank Societe Generale, state-run utility EDF and oil giant Total in Paris.

The environmental organisation said the companies were contributing towards global warming.

Demonstrations, which began in London, had spread to the rest of Europe by Thursday. In Austria, activists blocked city trams while the streets of Sweden’s Gothenburg were closed.

In the Spanish city of Barcelona, protesters arranged themselves in the shape of Extinction Rebellion's egg-timer logo.

The protests spread as far as New York, where campaigners temporarily blocked the Brooklyn Bridge.

The campaigners are urging governments to declare a climate emergency, reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2025 and stop the loss of biodiversity.

They also demand the establishment of "citizens assemblies on climate and ecological justice".

All ages are represented on the protests, which bear striking similarity to the Cold War nuclear disarmament assemblies.

In London on Thursday, Extinction Rebellion disrupted transport in the main shopping areas of Oxford Circus and Marble Arch, and gathered in Parliament Square and across Waterloo and Vauxhall bridges.

Pupils joined their parents in yelling “We love you” at passers-by. Grandparents danced to musical performances.

People in their twenties through to their seventies stepped up to be arrested as police repeatedly attempted to clear the occupied areas.

Each area has an induction stand to welcome newcomers to the movement and instruct them in how they should behave.

Drugs and alcohol are banned as food and drinks are handed out.

Police officers detain a climate change activist at Waterloo Bridge during the Extinction Rebellion. Reuters
Police officers detain a climate change activist at Waterloo Bridge during the Extinction Rebellion. Reuters

London's Marble Arch hosted a family-friendly area, with therapy tents and a performance stage.

Hena, 35, brought her two children to join the protests. Her son asks for help in spelling as he writes “Too much pollution” on a wall in chalk.

The family is surrounded by others lazing in the sunshine among the tents filling the park, watching speeches on the stage or helping an older man spray-paint T-shirts with the Extinction Rebellion logo.

“I feel quite hopeless actually but it’s not my personality to sit at home and mope,” Hena said.

“My son watches documentaries and is quite aware that he doesn't see as many bees as he used to.

"I don't want him to just watch documentaries about how everything is being destroyed without feeling that there is a forum where he can at least say that he doesn't agree.”

Images of the protest are posted on Instagram and shared, encouraging more people to join in.

Sandy, 65, joined the protests on Thursday after seeing coverage online. Taylor Heyman / The National
Sandy, 65, joined the protests on Thursday after seeing coverage online. Taylor Heyman / The National

Sandy, a retired archaeologist, joined Thursday’s protest after seeing the demonstrations on television.

“I reached my breaking point yesterday and got on the train this morning feeling really quite nervous and frightened,” Sandy said.

“But this is a wonderful group of people and the best form of protest – peaceful, non-violent protest to make our point.

"We just have to pray it works.”

Extinction Rebellion burst on to TV screens in November 2018, when police arrested more than 70 people for blocking five bridges across London's River Thames.

Marion, 59, a magazine editor, praised the actions countries such as the UAE have taken to lessen climate damage but says it is not enough.

“The UAE has done fantastic adaptation and mitigation stuff, very innovative stuff to try to plan for the future, but we've got to do more than just adapting and mitigating,” Marion said.

“We're calling on governments around the world to declare a climate emergency. I've got children in their twenties. I've got a grandchild. I can't bear the thought of what they are going to have to struggle with."

As of Thursday evening, police had arrested more than 480 people related to the protest.

But officers have been criticised for siding with the demonstrators after video emerged of some dancing in the street.

Police chiefs said that the behaviour was unacceptable.

"We expect our officers to engage with protesters but clearly their actions fall short of the tone of the policing operation," Cmdr Jane Connors said.

Sajid Javid, the Home Secretary, called on police commanders to use the full force of the law.

“I totally condemn any protesters who are stepping outside boundaries of law,” Mr Javid said.

“They have no right to cause misery for the millions who are trying to lead their daily lives. Unlawful behaviour will not be tolerated.”

Meanwhile, veteran broadcaster Sir David Attenborough warned: "If we have not taken dramatic action within the next decade, we could face irreversible damage to the natural world and the collapse of our societies."

Attenborough issued the stark warning in a programme focusing on the facts of climate change, which was broadcast in the UK on Thursday night.

Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg has become the voice of her generation. Speaking to the EU parliament on Tuesday, she chided leaders for focusing too heavily on Brexit.

Matilda, 18, protesting in the sunshine at Oxford Circus, agreed with Ms Thunberg’s sentiments.

"We don't really want to hear about Brexit," Matilda said. "We want to see the government addressing what we think is really critical right now."

Matilda, 18, joined the schools climate strike in February and decided to take more action on Thursday. Taylor Heyman / The National
Matilda, 18, joined the schools climate strike in February and decided to take more action on Thursday. Taylor Heyman / The National

Matilda is apologetic about the disruption caused to people's daily lives but said she felt the action was worth it.

“It's not personal towards people being disrupted, but it is necessary," she said. "We need to stop climate change by pretty much any means we can.”

Like Matilda, three young women excitedly striding from Marble Arch to Oxford Circus up Oxford Street began protesting at the school climate strikes in February.

Joany, 16, says “The more we do about it, I feel like they are just getting angrier and I feel like it's getting a response that we do need,” said Joany, 16.

“It's really going to affect us the most, I think it’s fair to say. We are going to have to deal with the consequences the most.”

Francesca, 16, agrees: “Why get an education if you don’t listen to the educated?”

Updated: April 19, 2019 06:25 PM

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