Thousands of people are taking to the streets of London on Monday, planning, blocking traffic and causing widespread disruption to demand action over the escalating ecological crisis.
Hundreds of protesters slept in tents in Hyde Park overnight and many more from around the UK joined them at five makeshift camps across the capital for the demonstration, which is expected to last for at least a week.
At 11am on Monday, protesters set up camps and roadblocks at Marble Arch, Oxford Circus, Waterloo Bridge, Parliament Square and Piccadilly Circus. The roadblocks are planned to continue round the clock at each site for at least a week, and potentially longer, in a protest reminiscent of the Occupy London camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral in 2011-12.
The protest is part of a global campaign organised by the British climate group Extinction Rebellion, which will encompass demonstrations in 80 cities, across 33 countries, in the coming days.
The campaign cites the civil rights and suffragette movements as inspiration and is backed by senior scientists and academics, including the former archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.
Organisers in London said they were expecting thousands of people to take part in peaceful acts of civil disobedience. “We don’t want to disrupt people, but our government’s failure over the last 30 years leaves us no choice,” a spokesperson said.
“Governments prioritise the short-term interests of the economic elites, so to get their attention we have to disrupt the economy.”
Eighty-five people were arrested in the capital in November when thousands of protesters, including families, occupied five bridges.
The group is demanding immediate action to counter environmental destruction, after predictions that humans face an existential threat if climate change and the loss of biodiversity continues.
Extinction Rebellion is calling on the government to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2025 and establish a citizens’ assembly to devise an emergency plan of action, similar to that created during the second world war.
The group wrote to the prime minister, Theresa May, outlining its demands and asking for face-to-face talks. In the letter, the activists warned they would escalate their disruptive actions over the coming weeks unless the government acted.
“Make no mistake, people are already dying,” the letter states. “In the majority world, indigenous communities are now on the brink of extinction. This crisis is only going to get worse … Prime minister, you cannot ignore this crisis any longer. We must act now.”
Participants have been warned they will be taking part in non-violent civil disobedience and might be arrested. Organisers have circulated legal advice to anyone planning to attend, requesting they refrain from using drugs and alcohol, and treat passersby and the environment with respect.
A Metropolitan police spokesperson declined to comment, other than to say an appropriate policing plan would be in place.