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Protesters from Fossil Free London demonstrate outside JPMorgan's Canary Wharf offices on 19 October 2023 as part of a larger effort to disrupt the Energy Intelligence Forum summit—a gathering between Shell, Total, Equinor, Saudi Aramco, and other oil giants—being held in central London. (Photo by Lucy North/PA Images via Getty Images)

Climate Activists Arrested at London Protest of Oil Conference

British police detained climate protesters who were trying to block access to the site of the Energy Intelligence Forum in London, England.

Dozens of protesters, including Greta Thunberg, gathered outside of the site of the conference—the InterContinental Hotel—chanting “oily money out” and occupying the sidewalk by the luxury hotel’s entrance on 17 October. The conference is an event for major oil and gas industry organizations and features speakers that include chief executives from Aramco, Equinor, Shell, and UK minister of energy security Graham Stuart.

According to a witness, “two speakers, the CEO of trading house Gunvor, Torbjörn Törnqvist, and the head of oil trading at Trafigura, Ben Luckock, missed the event after climate protesters blocked the entrance,” Reuters reported.

The Metropolitan Police said it arrested 29 people during the protests on Tuesday, including Thunberg, according to the Associated Press. Six were arrested “on suspicion of obstructing a highway and 21 others for breaching protest conditions,” the AP reported. “One person was detained on suspicion of criminal damage and a further for breaching court bail conditions.”

The protesters are opposed to oil, gas, and other fossil fuel companies’ efforts to slow a transition to renewable energy solutions. They also voiced opposition to the British government’s approval in September for new oil drilling projects in the North Sea.

“Environmental groups say they will continue to protest throughout the planned forum,” the AP said. The forum, with the theme of “Energy in a Divided World” this year, runs for three days and ends 19 October.

Some of those charged with disrupting public order are scheduled to appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on 15 November, according to CNN. If found guilty, Thunberg could be fined up to £2,500 ($3,035).

On Thursday, Thunberg joined a separate climate protest in London—this one occurring outside of the Canary Wharf headquarters of JP Morgan.

On the first day of the event, Crisis24 cautioned that climate activists would be protesting at the conference, blocking roadways near the hotel, and would likely disrupt security transportation efforts.

“Although the gatherings will probably remain largely peaceful, low-level clashes and acts of vandalism cannot be ruled out,” the alert said. It recommended using caution in the area and allowing for additional time when traveling to, from, or near the event.

Some governments are coming down increasingly hard on protest movements. During the past two years, the United Kingdom introduced new laws that expanded police powers to block and disperse protests, including the Public Order Bill. “Britain’s Conservative government has argued that the police needed new powers to respond to protesters—many of them from climate groups—seeking to create mass disruption. Activists from Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil have disrupted major sporting tournaments, blocked roads and shut down large parts of London,” according to The Washington Post.

Climate-related and social justice mass protests have cropped up worldwide in recent years. In response to a wave of mass protests in 2020 and 2021, legislators in 34 U.S. states introduced 81 anti-protest bills during the 2021 legislative term. The U.S. Protest Law Tracker noted that since January 2017, 42 state laws were enacted that at least introduced new penalties or controls on protesters. Australia and New Zealand have also recently passed laws that increased penalties for protesters.