Carrying flowers, coffins and papier-mache skeletons, thousands of protesters have staged a symbolic funeral procession in the British capital demanding immediate action on the global climate crisis.
Saturday’s protest, organised by the environmental group Extinction Rebellion, drew at least 20,000 people, including representatives from women’s movements, student groups and trade unions. Crimson-robed silent protesters known as the Red Brigade led the march down Oxford Street in London’s busy shopping district, followed by a jazz band playing solemn tunes.
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“We’re connecting with our grief for the huge amount of species that have already been lost, for those people who have already been impacted by climate change, for our brothers and sisters across the globe,” said activist Clarissa Carlyon.
Many demonstrators had travelled to London from across the United Kingdom to take part in the protest and show their support for Extinction Rebellion activists who are taking part in a two-week lockdown of the city centre.
Since the civil disobedience campaign began on Monday, hundreds of people have been camped out in central London and hundreds more have glued themselves to floors and doors in disruptive actions targeting institutions and companies they say play a role in the climate crisis.
In recent days, activists have blocked roads around government departments to call on politicians to act as well as the entrance to the BBC headquarters in a bid to draw attention to what they see as the public broadcaster’s “silence” on the climate emergency.
They also disrupted flights at London City Airport, where Paralympian James Brown climbed on top of an aircraft on Thursday.
“There’s been a groundswell of support, of people waking up to what’s happening,” Carlyon said.
Many actors, musicians and politicians have taken part in the civil disobedience campaign.
Kevin Treweeks, grand secretary of Plymouth in Unison, a trade union in the south-west of England, called on more workers’ groups to join the movement.
“If we’re going to do something about climate change we have to change our economy. And we can’t just throw people out of work. We need a plan. We need to move jobs into the places where they’re really needed, take them away from fossil fuels,” he said.
The London Metropolitan Police said at least 1,290 activists had been arrested since Monday, while 42 people have been charged with offences including breaching conditions imposed by police under public order legislation and obstructing a highway.
Extinction Rebellion’s last major bout of protests – which took place in April – led to more than 1,100 arrests and hundreds of people facing trial for an array of charges.
But the protests also resulted in the British Parliament declaring a climate emergency. The motion, tabled by the leader of the main opposition Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn, was non-binding, however.
Concerned by what they perceive to be a continued lack of concrete action over global warming, Extinction Rebellion wants the UK government to commit to net-zero carbon emissions by 2025.
The UK has pledged to cut net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by the middle of this century, making it the first G7 nation to set such a goal.
Extinction Rebellion activists in other European countries have also staged protests this week.
In Italy, activists have been on a hunger strike for five days, vowing to continue until the prime minister agrees to meet them, while in Germany, activists have glued themselves to the gates of a coal-fired power station.