Climate protests hit Paris, London

A French anti-riot police officer using pepper spray on climate-change activists as they blocked the entrance of the Societe Generale bank headquarters in a sit-down protest in Paris yesterday. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
A French anti-riot police officer using pepper spray on climate-change activists as they blocked the entrance of the Societe Generale bank headquarters in a sit-down protest in Paris yesterday. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Activists target those with links to oil and gas industry, aiming to bring cities to a standstill

PARIS/LONDON • Climate activists blocked thousands of employees from entering the headquarters of France's Societe Generale bank, state-run utility EDF and oil giant Total yesterday, following similar protests in London aimed at bringing the city to a standstill.

Environmental group Greenpeace said it was protesting against company links to the oil and gas industry, which it calls a driving force in global warming. Activists also obstructed the entrance to the Environment Ministry near the La Defense business district.

Protesters pasted giant posters of President Emmanuel Macron carrying the slogan "Macron, President of Polluters" and a banner reading "Scene of Climate Crime" on the glass facade of Societe Generale. Police pepper-sprayed a group blocking the bank's main entrance in a sit-down protest.

Some demonstrators taped themselves together while others cuffed themselves with plastic ties to metal poles to make it harder for police to dislodge them.

Employees in business suits milled around outside their offices. "I just want to get inside and on with my work," one frustrated bank employee said.

Greenpeace and action group Les Amis de la Terre (Friends of the Earth) have previously criticised Societe Generale for its financial role in oil and gas projects, in particular the Rio Grande LNG gas project in the United States.

EDF, which relies heavily on nuclear and hydropower plants to generate electricity, said 96 per cent of its power was carbon dioxide-free, and that the company was committed to curbing its total carbon footprint by 40 per cent by 2030.

 
 
 

A Total spokesman said two senior company executives had held talks with representatives of Greenpeace and Les Amis de la Terre.

Total chief executive Patrick Pouyanne told an industry summit yesterday that his company had increased output to 2.95 million barrels of oil equivalent per day, passing its 2018 record, aided by increased production in Australia, Angola, Nigeria and Russia.

Yesterday's protest echoed a series by the Extinction Rebellion group of climate-change campaigners in London this week that have caused transport snarl-ups.

An Extinction Rebellion protest that was expected to trigger massive disruptions at Heathrow Airport yesterday got off to a slow start, with fewer than two dozen people taking part in the fifth day of the group's protests.

About 20 people, many of them in their teens, gathered outside the London airport with a banner that read: "Are we the last generation?"

The teenage protesters staged an emotional protest against political inaction on climate change.

Activists with the Extinction Rebellion movement had said they aimed to "shut down" the London airport on Good Friday, a busy travel day over the Easter weekend.

The group began demonstrating on Monday at central locations including Parliament Square, Waterloo Bridge and Oxford Circus, often lying down on roads and bridges.

Incidents have also been reported of protesters gluing themselves to trains. They also chained themselves to opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn's garden fence. Metropolitan Police said about 460 protesters had been arrested during the week.

REUTERS, DPA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 20, 2019, with the headline 'Climate protests hit Paris, London'. Print Edition | Subscribe