Defend the right to protest

Heather Hunt at a Kill the Bill protest in Sheffield. The banner reads "Defend the right to protest."
Heather Hunt

Picture the scene. On a rainy morning in London, an Extinction Rebellion protest is in full swing in Millbank, demanding the Government start to act now to prevent billions of worldwide deaths which will happen if we don’t drastically reduce our carbon emissions.  Hundreds of people are sitting in the road, chanting and singing. Sheffielder and former clinical psychologist Heather Hunt is walking around, trying to dry a banner, wet from the night before. She is there to support friends, not to block the road or be a nuisance. Unlike many who sat in the road, she has no intention of being arrested. She had been there 20 minutes when suddenly, without warning,  the strong arm of the law grabs her from behind, tells her she’s under arrest and marches her off to a nearby police van.  

Heather told me the story in South Street cafe. “I was arrested under Section 14 of the Public Order Act, whereby police need to ensure potential arrestees know the consequence of not moving. I did not hear any warning. I was shocked and angry at the injustice. After 14 hours in Brixton police station, I was discharged pending investigation, as were several other Sheffield arrestees. I was more shocked 5 months later when I was charged with Wilful Obstruction of the Highway. I felt that this was ridiculous, so I pleaded not guilty. The legal team from Extinction Rebellion were extremely helpful and supported me in developing my defence.  In June this year, I defended myself in London Magistrates court, cross-examining the police and putting up my defence.  But I was found guilty and got a massive fine and costs of £1,525.”

Heather then had to decide whether or not to appeal. “My first reflection was not! I had no personal motivation for going to appeal. There’s no heroic story about what I was arrested for and I’ve lost trust in the British Justice system. The XR legal team says I have a 50:50 chance of acquittal. If I lose I need £620 ready for court costs. Not very good odds. Anyway, it’s a long, tedious, lonely and stressful process. Then I reflected on  “love and courage.” Love for the earth and, in light of the draconian Police and Justice bill,  love for all the non-violent protestors courageously risking arrest and its consequences. Courage, I thought I could find if I was going through the appeal process in solidarity. So amazing and heartwarming, members of XR Sheffield agreed an appeal would be important for all protestors, present and future. From solitary to solidarity! I would be standing  up for justice and the right to protest for and with others.” 

If Heather is granted the right to appeal, she hopes the Ziegler ruling can apply to her case. 

 The Ziegler ruling comes from a  Court of Appeal case of four protestors charged with Wilful Obstruction of the Highway. They had locked on and blocked the road to an arms fair in London, in December 2017. They were protesting about weapons being sold to dictators and human rights abusers. The Crown Court judge hearing this case in July ruled that Article 10 and 11 of the Human Rights Act does include the right to protest on the highway if it is considered relevant and proportionate and that there is no automatic primacy of the rights of road users over protestors.

But the Government are pushing hard to make all protests illegal. George Monbiot wrote in the Guardian “The last-minute amendments crowbarred by the government into the police, crime, sentencing and courts bill are a blatant attempt to stifle protest, of the kind you might expect in Russia or Egypt. Priti Patel, the home secretary, shoved 18 extra pages into the bill after it had passed through the Commons, and after the second reading in the House of Lords. It looks like a deliberate ploy to avoid effective parliamentary scrutiny. Yet in most of the media, there’s a resounding silence.”

New clauses in the Bill mean that it would be illegal to block a road for any reason, and those found guilty face 51 weeks in prison. It doesn’t matter if you are locked on, sitting in the road or standing holding a banner, all could face 51 weeks in jail. 

Shockingly, the amendments contain powers to ban named people from protesting. You can be banned if you have previously committed “protest-related offences”. Due to the draconian measures in the rest of the bill, it will be difficult to attend a protest without committing an offence. You can be banned if you have attended or “contributed to” a protest that was “likely to result in serious disruption”. This could mean almost anything, including being noisy. If you post something on social media that encourages people to turn up, you could find yourself on the list. You can also be banned from associating with particular people or “using the internet to facilitate or encourage” a “protest-related offence”.

I wish Heather and all those fighting the Police Bill, whether in Parliament, in the courts or on the streets, every success in defending the right to protest and in defeating this Bill. 

Sign the Liberty petition here. 

“The climate isn’t top of my list…” A message to parents and grandparents.

Regular Sheffield Star letter writer Jayne Grayson wrote this.

“If I am honest the climate really isn’t at the top of my list. Sorry if that upsets others but going away for two weeks of sun at Christmas is the top of my important. Keeping a job in this time of uncertainty, making sure my son passes his GCSEs, saving up enough money so we can retire early and not have to work till we are 75, those matter to me more.

Yes we do our bit, we recycle, we have cut meat out as much as we can, we leave the car at home and walk more, that’s my bit to help if it’s not enough sorry but there’s more things I care about right now.”

Here’s my reply.

Jayne Grayson tells us that she has a son about to take his GCSE’s but she doesn’t care about the climate. It is clear she is out of touch with climate science.


The failure of COP26 means that we are hurtling towards the planet overheating to 1.5 degrees. Instead of planning to reduce emissions by  45 per cent by 2030 as scientists say we need to, we are on a path to increase them by 16 per cent by that date. World leaders showed they cared more for the interests of the fossil fuel companies than the future of our children. In 2030 Jayne’s son will be in his 20’s and in the prime of his life.
Once the planet exceeds 1.5 degrees warming we can expect many feedback loops to kick in. Indeed some are already happening. For instance, methane is bubbling up from the melting permafrost in the arctic. This methane has been locked away for millennia but will now contribute to further heating the planet. Unless we change course, eventually, there will be so many feedback loops that the planet will keep heating up regardless of how well we control our emissions. Food will become scarce as crops all over the world fail. Cities will flood and civilisation will collapse. 


The planet is a bit like a human body. It can cope with a fever. But if a human continues to overheat, eventually the vital organs fail and they die. That is what we are doing to the planet. 


I’m sure Jayne loves her son, so if she does not want him to have to face this future she should act to demand world leaders take the necessary action to prevent it. This is not about whether we sort out our recycling or rinse our dishes. This is about Governments completely changing our societies, moving quickly from fossil fuels to renewables, insulating all homes and buildings, providing decent public transport so we don’t need cars, taxing frequent flyers, planting millions of trees, revolutionising agriculture, stopping new roads from being built and contracting, not expanding airports. 
You don’t have to glue your face to the road Jayne, but it seems the Government will only listen when they are forced to by the overwhelming voice of the mass of the people. Parents and grandparents, if you love your children, get involved in the movement to stop climate catastrophe today. 

How full will the prisons be before the Government starts to Insulate Britain?

The failure of COP26 has changed the climate of protest in this country. Extinction Rebellion’s Paralympian James Brown has been jailed for a year for his protest on top of a plane. Nine Insulate Britain protestors have been jailed for contempt of court for breaking injunctions preventing them from sitting in the road. Eight were sent to prison for three or four months, while the ninth, Ben Taylor, was given a six-month sentence after a judge said his submissions to court were “inflammatory”. Ecologist Emma Smart, one of the imprisoned, has since been on hunger strike for two weeks.

On the weekend following the imprisonments climate activists from many groups gathered outside the court, then marched and sat down on Lambeth Bridge. This resulted in 131 arrests of peaceful protestors, but you probably haven’t heard about it as it was largely ignored by the media, who were more interested in the violent Covid protests in Europe. 

Dr Abi Perrin wearing a lab coat holding a placard saying "I AM FRIGHTENED THAT OUR GOVERNMENT WOULD RATHER IMPRISON SCIENTISTS THAN FOLLOW THEIR ADVICE."
Dr Abi Perrin photographed by Hannah Woodhouse on Lambeth Bridge

One protestor on the bridge said that if he is imprisoned ten more will take his place. And if they are imprisoned a hundred more will take their place. And if they are imprisoned a thousand more will take their place. Campaigners are following the tactics of Gandhi, who eventually made the British Government listen by filling the jails with non-violent protestors. 

Alanna Byrne of Extinction Rebellion, who took part in the Lambeth Bridge action, said, “When I saw the “Highway 9” give their testimonies in court this week, I knew I had a duty to take a stand today in their place. These people willingly gave up their freedom to push the government to act on the greatest crisis we’ll ever face. The failure of COP26 should shock everyone into action. World leaders are protecting the interests of the fossil fuel industry over the general public, they are not coming to save us. All we have left now is to come together on the street and rebel for all we hold dear. The government thinks that this injunction will scare people into submission and stop taking action. But the opposite is true. This has only ignited a fire in people that will spread faster than they know. “

I have never been happy with Insulate Britain’s tactics. I would much rather protests were focussed on the Government and the Corporations that cause the emissions. But the aims of Insulate Britain are spot on. Insulating houses will be a triple win. It will reduce emissions, reduce fuel poverty and provide thousands of worthwhile jobs. Any Government serious about tackling the climate crisis would do this first, not lock up the people demanding it.

Bing Jones a retired Sheffield doctor, has been taking part in Insulate Britain protests. He told me 

“We’re failing on the climate. Emissions rise while BP makes a billion dollars a month profit. Science, media, COP and polite demonstrations are not changing things fast enough. Our kids are strapped in a car driven by a madman heading for a cliff. I’m at my wits end so I’ve joined Insulate Britain. I’ve been arrested 6 times. It’s different. It’s a step up. This is civil resistance. It’s ordinary people sitting silently and blocking roads and saying STOP to business as usual. Saying send us to prison. Making a demand that everyone can understand: that government insulates and retrofits our homes to save 15% of UK emissions, make hundreds of thousands of proper skilled jobs and lift 7 million and more people out of fuel poverty. We could abolish heating bills, it’s a win, win, win. This is a big disruption but it’s ordinary people telling the uncomfortable truth that our government is not really interested in saving us. I’m a doctor, I want to look after people but I can’t go on doing what I know doesn’t work. It seems to me that the only honourable place to be just now is in prison.  9 in prison now for contempt of court, 23 more on their way to prison and 131 arrested last Saturday from various groups. If enough people do this we might just make real, rapid change.”

Insulate Britain explain their demand on their website. “The UK has some 29 million homes and they are the oldest and least energy-efficient housing stock in Europe. Every year vast amounts of energy are wasted in heating and, increasingly, cooling our buildings. 

In order to meet UK commitments under the Paris Agreement to stay below 1.5C, and legal obligations under the Climate Change Act, emissions from heating and powering homes must be reduced by 78% in less than 15 years and then to zero by 2050. 

​Nearly 15% of the UK’s emissions come from heating homes: an overhaul of the energy performance of the UK’s housing stock is needed to reduce the energy demand.

​The UK needs a nationwide programme to upgrade almost every house. That is 1.5 homes per minute to the year 2050. Currently, the UK Government does not have a robust long-term national strategy with a funding mechanism in place to retrofit our homes. “

Surely the Government must act to put this right rather than face the prospect of jails overflowing with peaceful climate campaigners?

Here I am 13 years ago, busy insulating our new roof.

COP26 was a failure, but we must never give up.

COP26, the most important meeting in human history, has failed abysmally to slash emissions as climate science demands. Neither did it provide the countries on the front line, who have contributed least to emissions, with the finance they need to fund climate adaptation and start to repair the massive damage they have experienced as a direct result of rich countries emissions. At one point funding “loss and damage” was on the table, but the US, UK and EU  watered it down to “hold a workshop”. The plan to phase out coal was watered down to “phase down coal” (whatever that means) on the insistence of China and India. The final agreement is here.

200 scientists and academics have written an open letter, calling COP a failure and demanding a green revolution. 

Anita Sonia, an activist from Kenya tweeted “ I will go back to my country where millions of people are facing negative effects of climate change. I’ll tell them that I went to COP26 and requested leaders to open their hearts but none of them felt their pain.”

Friends of the Earth Scotland tweeted “It is nothing less than a scandal. Just saying the words 1.5 degrees is meaningless if there is nothing in COP26 agreement to deliver it. 

History will remember it as a betrayal of the global South – abandoned to the crisis with no money for transition, adaptation or loss and damage.

Prof Bill McGuire wrote in the Ecologist, “ For there to be any possibility of keeping the global average temperature rise – since pre-industrial times – to below the 1.5° guardrail, greenhouse gas emissions needed to fall by 45 per cent by 2030. Instead, they were on a path to climb 16 per cent by that date.”

Among the hundreds of banners and placards at last Saturday’s massive Climate Justice demonstration in Sheffield, this is the one that spoke most to me. “Don’t give up”. Having witnessed the failure of COP26 it is tempting to throw in the towel, become oblivious to the bad news and enjoy the rest of the time we have on earth as best we can. 

But that would be shirking our responsibilities. 

George Monbiot has other ideas. Talking on the Frankie Boyle show, he said “ When they tell you we are just the Government there is nothing we can do, that’s bull****. There is no economic barrier standing in the way. There is no technological barrier standing in the way. The only thing that stops them from doing what they need to do is the lack of political will. And so we have to get together in our millions to demand that they show that political will and defend our life support system.” 

Dr Aaron Thierry a climate scientist who founded Extinction Rebellion in Sheffield, was arrested taking part in a peaceful act of civil disobedience with Scientist Rebellion at COP 26. He said

“It’s clear that the COP process has failed: all we have to show for it are three decades of rising emissions. The science is clear. We need to halt all further fossil fuel investments and exploration, today! Yet governments continue to increase production, all their fine words and promises are hollow; we can see by their actions that they have no intention of doing what is required to prevent catastrophe. Rather than wait for our leaders to continue to fail us, we must rise up and take to the streets. As scientists who fully comprehend what is at stake, we are standing in solidarity with the youth and frontline communities and taking a stand.”

Activists laid down in the street outside the entrance to the COP26 Blue Zone to remind delegates and governments of the millions who have already died due to the failure of previous COPs and the further deaths that the failure of COP26 is locking in. Each shrouded body held a death certificate, reminding passers-by of the multiple hazards to human life that result from climate breakdown.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250 000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress. The climate emergency hits groups who are already poor the hardest – including indigenous peoples and many of those living in the Global South – people who have had the least opportunity to make their voices heard as part of the COP process. The message of protestors on Glasgow’s streets has been clear: justice to all peoples must lie at the heart of climate solutions. However, it seems the fossil fuel lobbyists, who had a bigger delegation than any country, were more successful at influencing world leaders. 

We must not give up. We must get active. Join an environmental group, join us on the streets and demand politicians and corporations take action to stop the destruction of our life support system. We need to build the biggest mass movement in history, uniting families, Trade Unions, environmental groups, justice groups, youth, OAP’s, everybody, to get the change we need. 

Wanting to survive is not radical. Knowingly continuing with business as usual is to commit genocide and crimes against humanity. 

What’s so important about 1.5 degrees?

In the run-up to COP26, it has been heartening to see the increased coverage in the media of the climate emergency. The BBC drama “The Trick” was tv at its best. But much of the coverage has annoyed me because it has focussed on personal lifestyle changes rather than the systemic change from Governments and Corporations that we need if we are to save ourselves from extinction.

The most annoying and frequent misinformation has been commentators speaking about climate change becoming “dangerous” when it reaches 1.5C. We have already heated the planet by 1.2 degrees and this is already incredibly dangerous. We have experienced vast wildfires,  monster hurricanes and droughts that ruined crops In Africa, the US, Canada and China. I am sure the residents of Fishlake will confirm that the warming we have already experienced is dangerous. Commentators should be more careful with their language.

Why did the Paris agreement put so much emphasis on the importance of avoiding 1.5 degrees of warming? When scientists talk about “dangerous” climate change they are pointing to the fact that we have to avoid a “hothouse earth” scenario. This is when feedback loops combine in a cascade so that the earth keeps heating up even if humans succeed in stopping our greenhouse gas emissions. The truth is scientists do not know at what temperature this will happen. Scientists have done an amazing job, modelling the different futures we can expect, depending on how successful we are at reducing emissions. But we are in completely unchartered territory, so these models can’t be relied on. Predicting the future has never been easy and these calculations have got to be the most complicated problem humanity has tried to solve. 1.5 degrees may be too optimistic, or too pessimistic. The 1.5 degrees was a round number, arrived at by the negotiators in Paris. Rich nations wanted it set at 2 degrees but island states and low lying nations realised that this would mean genocide for them, so they demanded 1.5. We can’t use it as a figure for which we are safe until it is crossed. Instead, we have got to maximise our efforts to reduce all emissions as quickly as possible. 

Some feedback loops are already kicking in. In his book “Our Final Warning. Six degrees of Climate Emergency”, Mark Lynas identifies some of them.

“Arctic sea ice has been shrinking by 13% a decade since satellites began measuring it in 1978. That means that half of the entire Arctics stock of sea ice has disappeared and what remains has become 85% thinner…Because there is now dark-coloured open water during the summer rather than highly reflective snow and ice, solar heat absorption has increased fivefold since the 1980s in the once-frozen seas of Alaska and Canada, introducing vast quantities of energy into the Arctic system. …While bright white snow-covered ice reflects 80% of the sun’s heat that falls on it, the darker open ocean can absorb up to 95% of incoming solar radiation. Once the ice begins to melt the process quickly becomes self-reinforcing, more ocean surface is revealed, absorbing solar heat and making it more difficult for the ice to re-form next winter.” 

“In the summer of 2019, the Arctic began to burn. In June more than 100 wildfires were burning above the Arctic circle, across Alaska, Siberia and Canada. Even Greenland saw wildfires erupting on fenlands scorched by unusual summer heat…the wildfires were not just burning trees. They were smouldering in dried-out peat, much of it formerly immobilised in permafrost. By the end of July, it was estimated that the blazes had released 120 million tonnes of CO2-an all-time record…All this extra carbon can only do one thing: accumulate in the atmosphere and cause more warming. These weren’t just wildfires, they were positive feedbacks showing that the heating of the Arctic is threatening to run out of control.”

With feedback loops already happening we must be perilously close to the hothouse earth scenario. Whatever the outcome of COP26, we must redouble our efforts to hold Governments and Corporations to account and ensure that emissions of greenhouse gases are reduced as quickly as possible. I don’t want to hear about targets for 2030, 2050 or 2060. I want to know what is being done now to reduce emissions.  

The early announcements from COP26 have been weak. Sheffield Peer Natalie Bennett explained why the plan to halt deforestation by 2030 was nothing to get excited about. She commented “The now infamous and much-misused REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) scheme emerged from the 2009 COP. A further agreement was reached in New York in 2014 to stop deforestation, yet 2016 witnessed a record 30 million hectares of forest disappearing – an area the size of Italy. Last year in Brazil alone, one million hectares fell before the chainsaws.” The plan seems to be little more than a target, with no means of enforcement.  Similarly, the agreement to cut methane by 30% by 2030 is too little too late and lacks any teeth to enforce it. 

We must persuade world leaders to do better than this, our future depends on it. 

Hazel’s questions on COP26

A guest blog by Extinction Rebellion activist Hazel Bober.

I’m a teacher and mum of two young children and I’m heading to Glasgow this weekend (Nov 5th) to join protesters demanding that world leaders commit to climate action at COP26. Here are some of the questions and comments I’ve had from friends and family members about COP26 and climate activism, and my responses.

What is COP26?

COP is the United Nations Climate Change Conference. This conference, in which world leaders gather to discuss and plan their response to the climate emergency, takes place every year but was postponed last year due to COVID. This year will be the 26th annual summit, hence the name COP26, and will be held in Glasgow from 31 October until 12 November.

Can you tell me a bit about the climate emergency?

We are currently not on track to meet the emissions targets set out in the Paris agreement in 2015. The aim of these targets is to limit global warming to an average temperature increase of 1.5 degrees celsius. This figure is important because climate scientists agree that beyond an increase of 1.5 degrees celsius there will be dangerous and devastating consequences for humanity. As the planet warms we can expect more extreme weather – such as flooding cyclones and droughts. We will see rising sea levels as glaciers melt and in turn mass involuntary migration. Ultimately our food and water supply systems will be stressed and could collapse globally, increasing conflict and war as resources become more scarce. It is important to note that many people are already experiencing these effects of climate breakdown and that the most vulnerable are the people causing the least emissions. In summary, right now, we are not on track for a climate-safe future, but we still have a choice about how bad things get.

Hazel and her son with a placard which reads "The seas are rising and so must we".
Hazel Bober and her son

Why will you be going to COP26?

I’ll be joining thousands of people on the streets of Glasgow in protest at the lack of action being taken by world leaders to drastically curb C02 emissions. To put it simply, I’m terrified for my children and for future generations, whose future is unsafe. We really have such a limited time to turn things around, and our world leaders are not committing to the drastic measures we need. We know that we absolutely must keep fossil fuels in the ground to try to limit future harm, and yet the UK government is considering expanding our fossil fuel industry by authorising a new deep coal mine in Cumbria and a huge new oil field, in Cambo off the coast of Scotland. If these projects go ahead, they will commit the UK to reliance on fossil fuels for many years to come, at a time when we urgently need to invest in and transition to renewable energy sources.

I agree with the cause but I don’t like the tactics – I don’t approve of things like blocking roads…

That’s fair enough, but I think it’s important to consider the context – we are at an absolutely pivotal point in human history where it is a make or break for humanity, and desperate times call for desperate measures. It’s also worth considering that many rights have been won historically through non-violent direct action – this was a key tactic of the Civil Rights movement and of the Suffragettes, but many people disagreed with their tactics at the time. It’s also important to note that you can still be part of the climate movement without engaging in this type of action. I joined Extinction Rebellion in August and was surprised to learn how many different interest groups there are within my local Sheffield groups, such as an art group that make banners and signs, a samba band, a rebel gardeners group who do outreach through seed giveaways and a group for young families. Being part of the climate movement, and in Extinction Rebellion, makes me feel like I’m part of a community that is engaged in the fight for climate justice and for a safer future for children and families.

Isn’t it too late already?

My brother and I discussed this when we met in London in August to join Extinction Rebellion’s Impossible Rebellion. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), had just released a report making it clear: climate breakdown is ‘unequivocally’ caused by human activity. The report sets out different future warming scenarios according to how much emissions are cut now. I’m not a climate scientist but it’s clear to me that if global temperatures exceed the 1.5C threshold, an average temperature increase of 2 degrees is far preferable to 3 or 4 degrees, in terms of what this means for our planet’s ecosystems and for humanity’s chance of survival. In addition, because the poorest and vulnerable will be hardest hit by climate collapse, we need to keep fighting for what’s right and for climate justice, even if we believe climate breakdown can no longer be completely halted.  As my brother and I talked, we saw a large banner with the words “Act now because it’s too late”, which I think is a really powerful message and an answer to this question. Human activity has already made things bad. But if ‘business as usual’ continues it can make things much, much worse. It means now is the time to act, not put hopes in future targets and pledges.

I want to take climate action but I feel a bit hypocritical as I drive a car and use a tumble dryer…

Many people are doing, or aware of things that we can do, in daily life to care for the planet, but at this stage, we really need to focus on system change rather than individual actions. The individual actions we take are defined and limited by the system we live in – an example of this from my own life is that I prefer not to have a car, and when I lived in Singapore, which has reliable, cheap and efficient public transport, it was very easy to do this. As a family we now own a car, as living without one in Sheffield is much harder, especially with young children. In summary, please don’t focus on your individual “environmental sins” or on judging the environmental actions of others-  we need your time and energy in the environmental movement instead so that together we can create the systemic changes that make it easier to lead an environmentally friendly lifestyle. An example of this would be improved public transport services in Sheffield.

I want to get involved. What can I do?

A great way is to join an environmental group and there are lots of inspiring ones in Sheffield. I would highly recommend Extinction Rebellion Sheffield, but there’s also Sheffield Climate Campaign Umbrella Group and Sheffield Friends of the Earth to name but a few. There may be environmental groups within your local community – Greener Greenhill is one that is local to me. Also, talk to your friends and family about the climate crisis so that caring for our planet and creating a safe future for our children becomes part of our daily conversations. Now is a great time to get involved; with COP26 there will be lots of events in Sheffield in the coming weeks to raise awareness of the climate crisis, including a protest in the city on November 6th as part of a global day of action. Change becomes more likely a greater number of people show their support for a cause by taking part in such action. See you on the streets!

For more information on Extinction Rebellion Sheffield visit www.xrsheffield.org

The Sheffield COP26 Climate Justice Protest is on Saturday 6 November at 12 noon at Devonshire Green.

An edited version of this article appeared in the Sheffield Star on 2nd November 2021

Climate crimes against humanity

Have you been inconvenienced by a climate protest? Why do they do it? 

Climate activists aren’t just protesting about a cause close to their hearts, they are protesting because the criminal justice system has failed to protect them and their families from the companies that continue to heat up our planet, which will eventually lead to billions of deaths.

Many climate activists have stated in court that it should be the leaders of big polluting industries and the politicians who support them on trial, rather than the protestors who are drawing attention to these crimes.

Whether these crimes are called crimes against humanity, genocide or ecocide is a moot point. Genocide is already part of international law, ecocide will hopefully become international law very soon. But the grave seriousness of the situation is clear.

• The Environment Agency warns that the infrastructure that supports civilisation is in danger of collapse;

• The UK’s official climate advisers, the Committee on Climate Change, warn of disruption to our food supplies in the 2040s and a dramatic reduction in arable farming output;

• The Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) has warned that parts of the world will soon become uninhabitable, with unprecedented crop failure and food insecurity driving mass migration; 

• The Potsdam Institute for Climate Impacts Research warns that half the world’s population could be killed with 4C of global heating;

UNICEF warns that over 1 billion children already suffer from some form of exposure to extreme climate risk, with 600 million children now being exposed to increased risk of vector-borne disease.

I suspect that many magistrates do not realise we live in a society that is killing hundreds of thousands of people every year and is on track to kill billions. They don’t know that what we do now determines how many people will be killed in the coming decades. The greatest crimes against humanity are already happening. 

In 2019 Jon Fuller led an attempt to prosecute key UK political figures for crimes against humanity and genocide by causing climate breakdown. A detailed case was submitted to the War Crimes Team at the Metropolitan Police, but they refused to mount a criminal investigation. The case was referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) which is now considering the case because they do not accept the police reason not to prosecute.

On 12 October 2021, a case was submitted to the ICC in connection with crimes against humanity associated with climate breakdown committed by the President of Brazil. As more national criminal justice systems fail to protect their citizens, other cases will be lodged with the ICC.

English law needs updating to include the crime of ecocide. The police have refused to investigate those who kill by polluting the planet, despite making it clear that they do not dispute that hundreds of thousands of people are being killed every year.  

Photo:Science Museum London. Credit: Andrea Domeniconi. 

The criminal justice system has failed to protect us from dangerous polluters, so Extinction Rebellion and other groups protest to stop the emissions and the pollution. Some members of Extinction Rebellion have disobeyed in the dock, disrupting the court.

If the criminal justice system acted to stop the killers, there would be no need for protests on the streets. Protesters are trying to stop ecocide and genocide, but the English Courts remain determined to put on trial, convict and sentence our finest, most courageous citizens – the environmental protesters.

This situation will escalate because the police have lobbied the government for tougher penalties to stop the ability of the British people to protest against the killings. Magistrates will soon be asked to impose tougher sentences on citizens trying to stop ecocide and the billions of deaths associated with it.

Why don’t magistrates initiate a moratorium on plea hearings and trials of environmental campaigners who have undertaken peaceful action to stop ecocide and genocide? The moratorium could remain in place until the decision by the International Criminal Court has been made on the two cases now before it.

When judges sentenced black slaves to death, or upheld the cruelty of apartheid, or sent gay men to prison, ordering chemical castration, it might be argued that the judiciary consisted of people who didn’t know better. Perhaps they were a product of the cruelty of the era in which they lived. Magistrates today have some degree of understanding of the horrors that will be inflicted upon the young around the world if we fail to act. 

Ben Manovitch, a Sheffield criminal lawyer said ““The law must be updated to protect us and enforced against the governments, mega-rich individuals and companies that are continuing to cause climate breakdown. We know their actions are costing lives, so let’s develop the justice system we need to hold them accountable, and to stop it happening.” 

At the Mock COP26 conference, a Treaty was adopted that called for a scale of penalties that match the staggering harm caused. Trials of climate criminals are coming. Extreme suffering is unfolding and the young will want retribution. l wonder if these trials will just include politicians and business leaders, or if magistrates must prepare themselves for ‘Truth & Reconciliation Commission’ hearings for crimes against humanity.