Who are Insulate Britain and what climate action do they want?

by Sonia Elks | @SoniaElks | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 17 November 2021 18:46 GMT

Police officers detain an Insulate Britain activist as they block a road outside the Houses of Parliament during a protest in London, Britain November 4, 2021. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

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The protest group have been blocking roads in disruptive protests in an effort to raise the alarm on climate change

 By Sonia Elks

LONDON, Nov 17 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Nine members of the climate campaign group Insulate Britain have been sentenced to jail for breaching an injunction banning them from blocking major roads.

The protest group has hit the headlines in recent months, as part of an increasingly disruptive movement that is using civil disobedience to push for urgent climate action.

Here are some key facts about Insulate Britain:
   

Who are Insulate Britain and what do they want?

Insulate Britain's first protest took place on Sept. 13, with dozens of activists blocking several junctions of the M25 motorway which encircles London, causing major disruption to some rush hour traffic.

The climate activist group is demanding that the government insulate millions of homes to tackle planet-heating emissions and move away from polluting industries to avert the worst scenarios of devastation outlined by scientists.

Spokesperson Liam Norton said Insulate Britain was founded by six members of Extinction Rebellion, which has also caused chaos with members glueing themselves to a plane, train and streets to call for faster action to combat climate change.

Though Insulate Britain shies away from naming leaders and says it has a decentralised structure, its most high-profile figures include Norton, an electrician from south London and fellow spokesperson Cameron Ford, a carpenter.   

   

What are their demands?

Insulate Britain wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson in August calling on him to commit to fully insulating all social housing in Britain by 2025, and to lay out a legally-binding plan to retrofit all homes to low-carbon standards by 2030.

While other environmental groups have raised the profile of the climate crisis, Norton said Insulate Britain aimed to go a step further by pushing for concrete actions and investment to tackle emissions.

"What climate movement needs is a win," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "It was about showing that we could highlight something and get potentially get some movement from the government on it."
 

Climate change demonstrators from "Insulate Britain" hold a banner as they block a road in London, Britain October 27, 2021 in this handout image. Courtesy of Insulate Britain/Handout via REUTERS

Why are they focusing on insulation?

About 15% of Britain's greenhouse gas emissions come from heating homes, making it one of the biggest contributors to the country's carbon footprint. Most British homes are heated using gas boilers. 

Rising heating costs are also a significant climate justice issue, with many poorer households struggling to keep warm in winter.

Home heating is an flashpoint issue that touches everyone in Britain, said Norton, adding that the group aimed to appeal both to the left with a social justice slant and to the right through a pitch for thousands of new green jobs.

"We wanted to transcend environmentalism, so it wasn't about dolphins and polar bears," he said. "What speaks to every single person in Britain is their home."

The government in October said it would increase grants to help homeowners remove their gas boilers and replace them with greener technology such as heat pumps, but it was dismissed as inadequate by Insulate Britain and other campaign groups.
   

Why are they breaking the law?

The group have said their disruptive tactics aim to prevent far greater harms to ordinary people from climate change.

"We have a right of necessity to cause disruption, to prevent the far greater destruction of our economy and way of life," the group said in a recent statement

Angry drivers have verbally abused and driven at Insulate Britain protesters, while others have been doused in ink.

Johnson described the group as "irresponsible crusties".

Transport minister Grant Shapps said on Twitter on Wednesday that "Every motorway and major A road in the country is now covered by injunctions preventing people from blocking the road - anyone who causes misery to motorists may face prison."

What will happen next?

Insulate Britain are planning next year to recruit hundreds more people, engage with communities and call for mass civil disobedience, Norton said.

"We won't stop, we will keep going," he said, adding that the group's members were willing to go to jail.

"We're saying to people 'Come and join us ... because that's what will make it successful'."

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(Reporting by Sonia Elks @soniaelks; Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)