Nilüfer Erdem, Steve Eason, Amy Gilligan and Kate Bradley report
Tens of thousands of people marched through central London this afternoon as part of global protests for climate justice, on the eve of the COP21 summit in Paris. Organisers estimate over 50,000 people took part, making it one of the largest climate demonstrations that has ever happened in the UK. Taking over an hour for the entire march to leave the start at Park Lane, a diverse range of groups, from Green Lib Dems to Reclaim the Power, made their way to Milbank via Trafalgar Square and Parliament.
Marchers sought to highlight the imminent threat of catastrophic climate change and the damage to both people and planet which will result from governments failing, once again, to take meaningful action. One demand raised was the creation of one million climate jobs to tackle both the environment and economic crises. Divestment from fossil fuel companies, like BP and Shell, was also called for: a small group from the Wretched of the Earth block broke away from the main march to protest outside BP’s offices. Other slogans were less targeted, calling for justice more generally. Some were on the march because they wanted a future for themselves and the children, while others raised the more militant slogan of “system change not climate change”.
Parts of the march evoked a festival atmosphere. Greenpeace had a full-sized model polar bear on a mock iceberg, and throughout the march there were many people in elaborate animal costumes. The vegan block was sizeable and one of the most vocal on the march. Frack Free Lancashire were also energetic, though elsewhere there was not much chanting. The religious block, with groups like CAFOD, Tear Fund, and Muslim Agency for Development Education, was also large.
Jeremy Corbyn spoke, and John McDonnell marched behind the Momentum banner. The Green Party had a large presence, with local groups from around the country represented. There was a small number of trade union banners, and union leaders like Matt Wrack from the FBU spoke; however, unions were not a significant presence on the march.
Although solidarity with refugees and migrants has been a key political issue over the last few months, this wasn’t prominently featured on many of the placards. As the effects of climate change multiply, we will see many more people displaced across the world, meaning it is crucial for the climate movement to make questions of migration central to the movement. The Wretched of the Earth block attempted to highlight the fact that the fight against climate change is also one against imperialism and colonialism, and included people from Movimiento Jaguar Despierto, Black Dissidents and London Latinxs. They managed to make their way to the front of the demonstration, despite having their invitation to lead the march withdrawn by the organisers after it became clear that they would be raising slogans against corporations and businesses.
Today’s march shows there are large numbers of people who can be mobilised around climate justice in a general sense, but there wasn’t a consensus around the kinds of actions necessary. Solutions that seek to make profit from climate change should be completely rejected. Moreover, individualised shaming of people’s consumer choices (such as the food they eat or clothes they wear), which they may not have much choice in, isn’t going to build the kind of movement we need. The challenge is to radicalise those who clearly feel passionate about the issue of climate change, arguing that movements in solidarity with migrants and against imperialism need to be made a focus of the climate movement.