Extinction Rebellion activists begin week-long occupation of Cambridge city centre junction
Extinction Rebellion Cambridge has begun its week-long, round-the-clock roadblock in Cambridge city centre.
The climate activists took to Trumpington Road and the Fen Causeway, at 9am on Sunday (February 16).
They used banners to stop cars and clear a space in the road, then began to bring in infrastructure, including a stage and gazebos.
The action is being led by the group’s youth wing, XR Cambridge Youth, and represents the start of its Rebel for Justice protest, due to run around the clock until Sunday February 23 at the key junction.
Extinction Rebellion’s ‘de-escalators’ pledged to speak to motorists to explain what was going on and how to find an alternative route.
The site is being secured by banners, hay bales and other objects. The protesters will sleep in tents brought to the location.
Following the launch of the protest, Cambridgeshire police said it had used emergency powers to close a section of Trumpington Road and Fen Causeway, putting in diversions for vehicles and buses. Pedestrians and cyclists are not affected.
The protest follows the issuing of three demands from XR Youth Cambridge.
The group warned it would cause major disruption unless three demands are met:
- The University of Cambridge must cut ties with the fossil fuel industry.
- Cambridge City Council must hold a Citizens’ Assembly on Climate Justice.
- Cambridgeshire County Council must work with other relevant regional authorities to provide a plan for a just transition away from an inadequate transport system reliant on fossil fuels
Both the city and county councils have said they are taking action to tackle climate change.
The University of Cambridge has adopted science-based targets for carbon reduction and pledged to reduce its emissions to zero by 2048, while aspiring to be a decade ahead of its decarbonisation pathway, meaning it hopes to achieve zero carbon status by 2038.
Through its Cambridge Zero initiative, the university aims to harness its research and policy expertise to help drive solutions for the zero carbon society of the future.
XR says its campaign message is that “the effects of the climate and ecological emergency are falling more heavily on disadvantaged and marginalised communities around the world, including in the UK”.
Amelia Halls, a member of XR Youth Cambridge, said: “We have given these three institutions since the new year to respond to our demands.
“Although we have had some promising conversations, warm words have not been backed up by action and we don’t have time for more hot air.
“Time is running out for people all over the world who are already suffering and dying because of climate collapse.
“We are in the sixth mass extinction and soon it will be too late to do anything about it. The city council, county council and Cambridge University need to act like we’re in an emergency because that’s exactly where we are.”
Last Thursday, activists occupied a city council meeting, with one even abseiling down inside the Guildhall and hanging above the chamber.
XR also had a mass picnic and sleep-out on King’s College lawn last weekend.
Fellow activist Tom Dorrington added: “The poorest and most marginalised people are bearing the brunt of climate catastrophe. In the UK, poorer communities suffer because of flooding, summer heatwaves and air pollution.
“The UK was the first country to industrialise and its actions over the last two centuries are causing natural disasters all over the world today. Cambridge University stands behind the technological innovation that brought about the Industrial Revolution.
“Local government must stand up to government inaction and austerity – and also use the powers it has today to tackle the emergency we face, instead of running endless consultations.”
A petition opposing XR’s week-long roadblock was launched on Thursday and by the start of the action on Sunday morning, more than 400 had signed it.
The petition, launched by George Owers, was designed to be sent to chief constable Nick Dean and the interim police and crime commissioner to take action.
It said: “We believe that whatever one’s view on combating climate change, it is totally inappropriate for unelected, self-appointed groups to be making strident ‘demands; of our political institutions that amount to undermining the principles of the rule of law, representative democracy, and accountability. The correct vehicle for Extinction Rebellion’s grievances is through legal channels and our democratic system: if they want power, they should stand for election.
“Cambridge City Council is right to reject these demands.
“Threatening the people of Cambridge with illegal acts of disruption is outrageous, and amounts to little better than mob rule. The proposed action will have a big negative impact on Cambridge’s residents and goes well beyond the boundaries of acceptable, peaceful, legal protest. Extinction Rebellion has no right to prevent citizens going about their lawful business.
“Blocking key transport routes, as Extinction Rebellion plans to do, threatens not only the access of disabled people to the city, but also could well cause significant problems for ambulances and other emergency vehicles. It is therefore highly irresponsible and dangerous.
“We therefore call upon Cambridgeshire Constabulary, the Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Commissioner, and all relevant authorities to do everything in their power to enforce the law and remove Extinction Rebellion’s illegal roadblock, planned to take place in Cambridge between 16th to the 23rd February 2020.”
Superintendent James Sutherland, of Cambridgeshire police, said: “The police are aware of plans to block roads during the half-term holiday. We are working closely alongside a number of local agencies to ensure that disruption is minimised. People should expect to be able to go about their lawful business unhindered and our role is to work towards this.
“We are in a challenging position where we will work in partnership to provide a proportionate policing response to the protest, balancing the needs and rights of protesters with those impacted by the protest.”
XR Youth Cambridge, open to under-30s, was founded in May 2018, and is focused on how the climate emergency is related to issues of social justice.
Nationally, XR wants the government to commit to reducing carbon emissions to net zero by 2025, and sets up a representative Citizens’ Assembly to determine what steps should be taken to achieve this.
More by this authorPaul Brackley