Climate protests disrupt London's bustling financial hub

Dmitry ZAKS
1 / 6
Banner-wielding climate change activists have repeatedly sought to make politicians prioritise tackling environmental change to save the planet from irreparable damage

Environmentalists glued themselves to the London Stock Exchange entrance and staged impromptu concerts in the middle of traffic on the final day of a campaign that brought parts of the UK capital to a halt.

Activists from Extinction Rebellion -- a fast-growing movement founded last year by British academics -- have used 11 days of festive but highly disruptive rallies to focus global attention on climate change.

Their ultimate goal is to slash greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2025 and to end biodiversity loss.

But their immediate aim was to get UK politicians to look past hot-button issues such as Brexit and come up with ways to save the planet from damage that younger generations think will hurt them most.

Extinction Rebellion members said their campaign drew plenty of public attention but failed to get the government to budge.

"The traffic disruptions have really, really brought the whole climate and environment out from being a niche issue," guitarist Nick Onley said while leading a group of 20 through a Beatles song performance in the middle of a busy street.

"But it hasn't been a complete success. We haven't got to that point where the government says 'yes, please talk to us'," Onley said as drivers stuck in the heart of London's bustling financial district furiously honked their horns.

An aide to UK Environment Secretary Michael Gove said no meeting had been scheduled with campaigners but that one might possibly happen next week.

The protest outside the London Stock Exchange building that stands in the shadow of St. Paul's Cathedral saw several glue themselves to the pavement in front of one of the glass entrance turnstiles.

One person wearing a gas mask also chained himself to one of the sleek building's stone columns.

"This institution literally trades in the devastation of our planet," the group said in a statement.

Extinction Rebellion estimated that top banks have poured $1.9 trillion (1.7 billion euros) into "fossil fuel financing" since the Paris Agreement on dealing with greenhouse gases was signed in 2016.

The group staged similar protests outside the entrances of the Bank of England and the UK Treasury.

- 'Not here to be liked' -

Activists had earlier targeted high-profile -- and tourist-heavy -- locations such as the Oxford and Piccadilly Circus junctions.

They also camped out on a statue-filled square facing the parliament building and potted plants and flowers on a central bridge.

Their tactics of sitting down in the middle of busy roads and refusing -- peacefully -- to move have generated media headlines.

But some activists admitted many Londoners were mystified as to why the group thinks such tactics will help stop climate change.

"Some people don't like our methods but do like our message," retiree Trudy Warner said.

"What we say is: We're not here to be liked. We're here to get attention."

The entire campaign saw police make 1,130 arrests and press charges against 69 people.

Retired engineer Godfrey Whitehouse said he spent three nights in a police station holding cell.

"I am just an ordinary member of the public who is absolutely terrified of the climate," Whitehouse said.

"And we would like to apologise to the public for the disruptions," he added.

The London campaign's closing act saw activists wash protest signs off the pavement and pack up the trash outside the Marble Arch monument where they had spent days camping out on the edge of Hyde Park.