As Australia Cops Out at COP26, Extinction Rebellion Targets Sydney Opera House

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XR protext

“The COP process has failed. Twenty-fifty is too late,” Extinction Rebellion organiser and spokesperson Larissa Payne told those gathered at the entrance to Sydney Opera House at 11 am on Monday morning. “This is climate code red for humanity.”

XR blocks entry to the Sydney Opera House
XR blocks entry to the Sydney Opera House

At the time, Payne was sitting atop and locked onto a four-metre-high ladder positioned in the middle of the road, blocking the main vehicle access into the iconic performing arts venue.

“The Australian government is a cop out and the whole world is watching, as they shame Australia on the global stage at COP26 in Glasgow,” she continued, “hurling us toward death for profit and greed.”

The nonviolent direct action was part of a global day of protests, aimed at calling out the “greenwashing” process that the annual UN climate conference (COP) has become – an event where world leaders can simply be seen to be acting on climate, while continuing on with business as usual.

Taking place this week, the 2021 COP is the most significant UN climate meeting since the 2015 Paris conference, as it’s generally agreed to be the last chance humanity has to effectively act on the climate crisis, with the findings of the recent IPCC report being labelled a “code red for humanity”.

The COP26 is particularly significant for Australia, as since Scott Morrison has come to power, our nation has increasingly distinguished itself as a climate pariah that’s unwilling to take any action, whilst the PM has become very adept at fronting these meetings with meaningless rhetoric.

Larissa Payne atop the ladder
Larissa Payne atop the ladder

Systems change

“The Australian Government swans into these talks as a laggard and a wrecker,” said Payne, as NSW police officers swarmed below the ladder, calling on her to come down. “Australia has been rated worst amongst the developed world for climate inaction.”

Over his time in federal parliament, PM Scott Morrison has long shouted his opposition to taking any adequate action on climate. And it’s no secret that the nation’s leader sits neatly in the top pocket of the mining industry.

Indeed, as 20 percent of the nation’s forest burnt to the ground over the 2019-20 bushfire season – the worst ever seen – Morrison took off to Hawaii, then appointed fossil fuel enthusiast Keith Pitt to resources minister, and went on to unveil a COVID recovery plan based on massive gas expansion.

With the Sydney Harbour Bridge shadowing her, Larissa dispelled the Liberal Nationals government assertion that our nation is a minor greenhouse gas emissions producer, as she pointed out that Australia is the third largest fossil fuel exporter in the world.

“We need systems change, not climate change,” Payne continued, as police pleaded with her to get down. “Scientists leaked part of the IPCC report, which is explicit when it says civilisation will not survive a cooked planet if we do not abandon the death cult of neoliberal economics.”

Police confer with an XR rebel
Police confer with an XR rebel

“Net zero is just a slogan”

Not only has our prime minister skirted around taking climate action, but he tried to get out of attending the COP26, and he further waited until a week before the conference to release The Plan to Deliver Net Zero: The Australian Way: a glib attempt at appeasing the global call to take action.

“I wouldn’t call it a plan. The document relies on technology which is either proven not to work or doesn’t yet exist,” Extinction Rebellion spokesperson Geoff Cameron told Sydney Criminal Lawyers. “So, you wouldn’t call that a plan. It’s just a hope.”

Without any concrete details, the pseudo plan displays a graph outlining how our nation will reach net zero emissions by 2050, which involves 15 percent of reductions relying upon technology yet to be invented, while there’s also a lot of talk about ineffective carbon capture and storage (CCS).

Cameron explained that CCS technology has been “a marketing slogan for about 20 years”. He added that every attempt to capture and store emissions from a powerplant has simply failed in the past. Although CCS can be used to increase gas production and, therefore, global temperatures.

“The document ignores the fact that wind and solar are already cheaper than coal and gas throughout Australia,” the long-term activist made clear. “The reality is we don’t need to invent anything, because we can use what we’ve got, and we’ll save money on it.”

And as to why COP26 is seen as the most significant meeting since COP21 was held in Paris in 2015, Cameron advises that it’s so important because the climate catastrophes we’ve been warned about for the last 30 years are now occurring, and multiple climate tipping points are about to kick in.

The Harbour City is warned
The Harbour City is warned

“The last chance saloon”

After making her speech, Larissa was coaxed down from the ladder by officers, who promised her she wouldn’t be arrested if she descended of her own volition. However, when she did, she was directly taken into custody and placed in the back of an awaiting paddy wagon.

The ardent climate activist told SCL later that afternoon that she was taken to the Day Street Police Station, where three charges were laid against her, and she’ll be required to front up before a magistrate in the coming weeks.

“The government of Australia is a captured state. Both major parties are owned wholly by the fossil fuel industry,” Payne told those gathered as she was about to be placed in the back of the police van. “They have no interest in what any one of you – police included – has to say.”

Larissa is carted off in the police van
Larissa is carted off in the police van

“The science is very clear that 2050 is a death sentence. You will not see kids playing cricket outside in the middle of the day. Island nations will be submerged,” the XR rebel warned.

“The COP26 conference is a last-ditch effort, and they’re letting us down.

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Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He's the winner of the 2021 NSW Council for Civil Liberties Award For Excellence In Civil Liberties Journalism. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Paul wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

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