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Tens of Thousands Take to the Streets of London Demanding Action on Climate Change

The march comes ahead of a UK general election in May and international climate talks in Paris at the end of the year.

by Kayleen Devlin
Mar 7 2015, 9:50pm

Photo by Joanne Coates

As throngs of protestors descended upon London's Parliament Square, a man dressed in a mock police hat and yellow safety jacket shouted through a loudspeaker: "Whose Planet?"

"Our planet," the crowd roared back.

So began Saturday's climate change rally in London, which attracted over 20,000 people calling for action on climate change. The march comes ahead of the UK's general election in May and an international climate change conference in Paris at the end of the year.

The march assembled in Lincoln's Inn Fields, the city's largest public square, where groups of varying descriptions came together in an array of inventive outfits and political placards.

In one section of the field, a group meditated, while lined in neat rows. Not far away, a group affiliated with Friends of the Earth held placards reading "No to Fracking." They clamoured around a large paper-mache figure named "Mr Frackhead." A man crouched underneath the tall figure growls in to a microphone: "I'm going to be fracking your land, fracking your water, and fracking your climate, and it's going to be making me lots of money." A loud boo swept through the small crowd in response.

There were students against austerity, trade unionists, and even self-professed eco-sexuals, among others, gathered throughout the park. 

Surrounding the protestors were scores of police who were blocking off roads and diverting traffic away from the march. Their presence, however, was not granted without a fight.

The Metropolitan Police had initially refused to assist with security, and had told organisers that they would have to arrange their own protest marshalls. Obtaining police assistance for the march came after global lobby group Avaaz launched an online petition against what they called "paying to protest." 

As a result of the petition, which gathered over 60,000 signatures, the police agreed to provide assistance to the march. Yet a spokesperson for Avaaz told VICE News that future police aid to protests remains uncertain.

Bert Wander of Avaaz told VICE News: "Effectively, their message is if we think there will be trouble at the march, we'll police it. If you don't think there's going to be trouble at the march, you'll have to pay to protest, which sends a really strange message to the public."

Today's climate change march comes in the wake of the People's Climate March in September, which drew over 40,000 people to the streets of London.

According to Claire James, one of the organisers from Campaign Against Climate Change, which spearheaded today's protest, the aim of the day was to put climate change at the top of the political agenda.

"There are really clear messages coming from scientists indicating that we have to act now on climate change. When you look at the UK and other countries, that message is being ignored," she told VICE News. "The march is going to be a chance for people to get out and make some noise about it."

Recently, all of the UK's main political leaders signed a joint pledge to tackle the issue, whatever the outcome of the May general election.

Yet for James, while this is a positive step, it's nowhere near enough.

"We see policies coming out such as massive investments in new roads, new runways, and fracking," she told VICE News. "All of this coming out suggests that this message about climate change isn't being taken seriously."

A similar tune could be heard in the speeches outside of Parliament Square, where the march terminated.

John Sauven, Executive Director of UK Greenpeace, railed against politicians and corporations for not acting swiftly enough to deal with climate change.

"When there's a crisis in the financial industry, the politicians, the corporations move heaven and earth to solve that crisis," he told the crowd." When it comes to the issue of eradicating climate change, we see something very different: dithering, lack of action, vested interest."

He added: "That's what we're up against. That's what we have to confront, because this is about power, and the power of some of those corporations like the fossil fuel industry is enormous."

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas told the crowd that what was missing from strategies to deal with climate change wasn't technology or money, but "political will."

"Those politicians in there are afraid," she said, pointing to Parliament. "They are afraid because they don't know what to do, quite frankly."

Fashion designer Vivienne Westwood and author Naomi Klein appeared via video and encouraged protestors to pull together their efforts ahead of the December climate conference.

"We have nine months to out ourselves. Nine months to lead from below, from the streets," Klein told the crowd. "We need societies that transform not just how power is generated but who controls that power and who benefits from it."

Toward the end of the rally, a 12-year-old girl named Laurel took the stage. "We need action now. Not in ten years time, not fifty year time, but now," she said. "It's our future, not theirs."

Related: A new legal precedent may have been set during the trial of New York climate change activists

Follow Kayleen Devlin on Twitter: @KayleenDevlin

Photos by Joanne Coates