Greta Thunberg joins climate activists at Canary Wharf for day of direct action

Greta Thunberg sits with Fossil Free London protesters to block the entrance of JP Morgan’s European headquarters. Pic: Andrea Domeniconi

Around 80 protesters from several climate change activist groups staged multiple demonstrations across Canary Wharf on October 19, including blocking the entrances to JPMorgan Chase & Co and Barclays UK. 

Campaign group Fossil Free London was joined by climate activist Greta Thunberg, who had been arrested and charged with a public order offence at another climate protest two days earlier.

The protests were part of a three-day direct action which culminated in a march through central London later the same day.

Robin Wells, 30, is the director of Fossil Free London. She told ELL: “We have taken a massive group of people as part of the ‘Oily Money Out’ mobilisation that Fossil Free London has organised to protest outside JP Morgan, the world’s worst funder of fossil fuels.”

Wells added: “Banks like JP Morgan are the reason why we’re having new oil and gas projects because they’re incredibly expensive, and without the finance, they just couldn’t do it.

“After blocking those doors we marched through Canary Wharf, these towering blocks of oily money, to Barclays HQ, who are the worst funder of fossil fuels in Europe since the Paris Agreement, and a major target of ours.”

Fossil Free London protesters outside Barclays UK’s headquarters, the first of two protests there on October 19. Pic: Andrea Domeniconi

2023 report by Banking on Climate Chaos found that JP Morgan and Barclays had invested $434.1b and $190.5b in fossil fuels respectively since the signing of the Paris Agreement, the international treaty on climate change.

Wells added: “Ultimately the problem with climate campaigning is we are never being heard. We are facing worse emissions than ever before, we are seeing the expansion of fossil fuel projects like Rosebank.

“If we get enough coverage, enough people realising how urgent the situation is, maybe we have a chance to make a difference. There’s nothing worse than losing everything, so we have no other choice but to try.”

Etienne Stott, a 44-year-old protester from Nottingham, told ELL: “This is about exposing [and] targeting organisations that support the expansion of fossil fuel projects around the world.”

Etienne Stott urged the public to seek out information about the climate crisis in his comments to ELL. Pic: Jamie Richards

“These projects are incompatible with continued human civilisation on Earth. We are headed towards catastrophe; it is outrageous that companies like JP Morgan are knowingly funding huge amounts of money into companies that are completely at odds with the advice of the International Energy Agency and the United Nations.”

Stott said he was handing out leaflets when Thunberg joined the protest: “Greta Thunberg, of course, is very well known, but she is an ordinary citizen trying to do the right thing.” 

Stott said Barclays and JP Morgan are greenwashing and sportswashing in the interest of the companies’ public image, adding that mainstream media is biased in favour of “business as usual”.

Rob, a 29-year-old digital marketer, was also at the protest outside JP Morgan.

Rob described the protests outside JP Morgan as an “uprising”. Pic: Jamie Richards

Rob told ELL: “They’ve corrupted our politics, our lawmaking; the new protest laws that we see in action this week were written up by a fossil fuel-funded think tank.”

In June 2023, openDemocracy reported that think thank Policy Exchange, which has previously received donations from fuel giant ExxonMobil, helped to draft the bill that became the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act.

Rob continued: “[Today] was a good collection of brave, conscious people trying to stand up for what’s right.”

Protesters also gathered outside Barclays UK’s headquarters waving Oily Money Out flags and accompanied by drummers as part of the peaceful protest.

Drummers faced down a line of police officers and security guards at the anti-Drax protest. Pic: Jamie Richards

This second protest focused on biomass firm Drax Global, which maintains a power station in North Yorkshire, as part of the International Day of Action on Big Biomass. Banktrack lists Barclays as one of Drax’s financiers

Extinction Rebellion, Biofuelwatch, Parents for Future UK, and Christian Climate Action were also at the protest.

Peter Deane, who has worked with Biofuelwatch for 15 years, told ELL: “Drax power station is trying to go green by burning wood instead of coal, now burning 13 million tons of wood every year.”

Peter Deane addresses the anti-Drax protest outside Barclays UK’s headquarters. Pic: Jamie Richards

“It’s supposed to be sustainable because trees grow back, but everybody can see that you can burn a tree in one minute, but it takes 30 years to grow that tree back again.”

The Guardian reported in 2022 that around 80% of the wood pellets burned at Drax power station came from North America.

Deane continued: “It can’t be a one-for-one, and there is no replanting going on in the southern United States, and no replanting going on in Canada. It’s a scam. We’ve got to get real about switching to truly renewable energy.”

Melanie, a 62-year-old lawyer from West London, was there to protest on behalf of Christian Climate Action.

Melanie told ELL of the “structural racism” that affects marginalised communities as a result of climate change. Pic: Jamie Richards

She told ELL: “There’s this idea that if you stop burning fossil fuels, you can start burning anything else, and it doesn’t work that way.

“One of the big reasons we as Christians support the anti-Drax campaign is because they are destroying poor Black communities in the southern United States.”

Melanie said Reverend Leo Woodberry, a campaigner and member of the US National Wildlife Federation, had told Christian Climate Action of “destruction” in his community due to pollution and wood dust from the processing of biofuel pellets.

She added that while she had not observed biofuel burning to have an outsize impact on marginalised communities in the UK, climate change in general is having an unequal effect on various British populations.

“Marginalised communities live in the areas that are most polluted, live on roads where there are really high levels of toxic chemicals in the air, and are really prone to breathing issues.”

“You only have to look at Ella Kissi-Debrah – her death was one of the first reported as due to air pollution.”

She continued: “It is [also] a devastating issue for poor communities and they are largely communities of colour in this country. There is an element of structural racism built in there.”

A 2021 report by UCL researchers found links between systemic inequality and high indoor air pollution.

A spokesperson for JP Morgan said: “We provide financing all across the energy sector: supporting energy security, helping clients accelerate their low carbon transitions and increasing clean energy financing with a target of $1 trillion for green initiatives by 2030.”

Barclays UK has yet to respond to ELL’s request for comment.

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