Extinction Rebellion delays protest at Heathrow – disrupting the airport likely to only create opposition to the campaign

Climate activism group Extinction Rebellion has postponed until later this year a plan to shut down Heathrow, using drones. It had said, on 1st June, that it had plans to cause a lot of disruption during June and July, to highlight the problem the UK has with the CO2 emissions from aviation – and the huge increase a 3rd runway would generate. There had never been any risk of lives being endangered, as drones would not have been flown near planes. XR had consulted widely among supporters, who feared a furore over safety concerns would eclipse Extinction Rebellion’s broader message over the need to take radical action to tackle the climate crisis. It could end up with overall very negative publicity, and hinder the message getting out effectively to a wider audience.  XR says any protests would take place within an exclusion zone in a 5km radius around the airport, avoiding flight paths, and the notice period for any drone action would be at least two months.  The intention is to push for the systemic change needed to cut Britain’s emissions as quickly as possible, by causing economic disruption – but trying to minimise disruption to passengers.

Extinction Rebellion delays drone protest at Britain’s Heathrow until after summer

By Matthew Green  (Reuters)
16th June 2019

LONDON (Reuters) – Climate activism group Extinction Rebellion has postponed until later this year a plan to shut down Britain’s Heathrow Airport using drones and published on Sunday more details of the protest action in a bid to allay public safety fears.

Last month aviation authorities went on the alert when the activists pledged to paralyse Europe’s busiest airport intermittently in June and July to highlight the damage that a planned third runway would cause to Earth’s climate. The protest had been due to start on June 18.

“Extinction Rebellion will not be carrying out any actions at Heathrow Airport in June or July this year,” the group said in a statement. “The Heathrow Airport authorities will therefore not have to pause any summer flights.”

Heathrow Airport responded to the group’s announcement by repeating its previous warning that any use of drones near the airport would be a “reckless action” that could endanger lives.

“We are working with the authorities to address any threat of protests which could disrupt the airport,” the airport authorities said. “We agree with the need to act on climate change, but that requires us to work together constructively – not commit serious criminal offences.”

Initial proposals to use drones floated last month caused a backlash among some supporters who feared a furore over safety concerns would eclipse the group’s broader message over the need to take radical action to tackle the climate crisis.

That earlier draft of the plan had stated that there was ‘no chance’ of flying drones while planes were in the air since the movement would inform the authorities of their plans well in advance, forcing the airport to ground all flights.

On Sunday, the group provided a more detailed plan that said protests would take place within an exclusion zone in a 5km radius around the airport, use only lightweight drones flown below head height, and avoid flightpaths. The notice period for any drone action would be at least two months.

“Creating any risk to aircraft or threatening any such risk must be avoided,” a legal brief by the group said.

Larch Maxey, part of a team who coordinates Extinction Rebellion actions, said the plan to shut down Heathrow was aimed at pushing for the systemic change needed to cut Britain’s emissions as quickly as possible.

“Our aim is to cause economic disruption to cause system change while minimising disruptions to the passengers and recognise that 75 percent of all flights are taken by 15 percent of people,” Maxey told Reuters.

The group did not give a new date for a new drone action beyond saying it would happen this year. Thousands of flights were grounded at Gatwick Airport outside London in December when drones were spotted near the perimeter. Extinction Rebellion was not involved in that incident.

Extinction Rebellion has pushed the climate crisis up the political agenda, with more than 1,000 volunteers willingly arrested over 11 days of peaceful London protests in April that forced parliament to declare a symbolic ‘climate emergency’.

Aviation emissions have come under fresh scrutiny since the British government adopted a new legally binding commitment last week to cut the country’s carbon emissions to net zero by 2050 – a first among the world’s biggest economies.

Building a third runway would make that goal harder to reach, according to scientists, who project that Earth’s climate system is fast heading towards irreversible tipping points.




See Extinction Rebellion’s press release:

Extinction Rebellion Grounds Summer Protest Plans For Heathrow

Email: press@risingup.org.uk

Phone: +44(0)7811183633, +44(0)7944894190, +44(0)7780602722, +44(07949332365, +44(0)7479234522

Website: https://rebellion.earth/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ExtinctionRebellion/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ExtinctionR  #ExtinctionRebellion

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/extinctionrebellion/

We thought we’d give your sub-editors a leg up and suggest a headline…

On a serious note, Extinction Rebellion will not be carrying out any actions at Heathrow Airport in June or July this year, aimed at causing disruption to holidaymakers and those planning to use the airport in this period. The Heathrow Airport authorities will therefore not have to pause any summer flights.

Fear and apprehension have swirled around this action since an internal proposal was leaked to media. The subsequent accusation that Extinction Rebellion was willing to endanger life is a depressing and predictable smear.

What endangers life on this planet is the continued and unfettered release of greenhouse gas emissions that will lead to runaway temperature rise, and the breakdown of life as we know it in the UK and across the world.  For absolute clarity therefore, Extinction Rebellion has not removed Heathrow Airport from its strategic planning. The Government’s go-ahead for the Airport authorities to begin building a third runway could not be more incompatible with the imperative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally.

Peatland scam

We understand that Heathrow Airport executives hope to disguise the destructive impacts of Heathrow expansion through cynical plans to exploit “carbon offsets”. They would like to claim, for example, the credit for sequestering carbon in Britain’s peatland, which can be done relatively cheaply and by others, and to create the illusion that this “offsets” the emissions from aviation. The public will see though any such fraudulent attempt to fiddle the figures. We are in a state of emergency and we need every tool in the box. We need both to sequester carbon and reduce emissions; not use one to justify the other.

Heathrow Action Proposal

So alongside this media statement we are also making the full Action Proposal available for feedback, plus the Legal Briefing.

Any action taken by Extinction Rebellion with regards to Heathrow Airport will adhere completely to our total commitment to non-violence and passenger safety. Since the leak of the internal proposal, Extinction Rebellion has consulted internally and externally to arrive at the following template for any Extinction Rebellion-sanctioned action at Heathrow Airport:

  • Our actions are nonviolent and proportionate to the emergency that we find ourselves in.

  • Drones will NOT be flown within flight paths. If drones are part of any planned Heathrow action, operators will fly them at a maximum height of six feet (1.82 meters) within the restricted 5km zone surrounding Heathrow, but NOTwithin flight paths as clearly indicated in the map below. As an example, advance notice could be given by Extinction Rebellion that a drone might be flown close to head height in a public park in West Drayton, presenting the airport authorities with the opportunity to make an advance decision to safely close air space for the duration of this action.
  • All drones will be small, lightweight and be flown no higher than six feet (head height), in respect of government legislation that prohibits flying above 400 feet. It is Extinction Rebellion’s contention that flying a lightweight drone at a maximum height of six feet, outside flight paths, poses no risk to passing aircraft.
  • The airport authorities and the general public be given two months’ advance notice of the start date and time of any planned action. Above all, this notice period provides an appropriate period for the authorities to safely plan the closure of the airport for the duration of the action. We hope it also provides members of the general public with sufficient time to seek alternative travel arrangements if necessary.

Map showing the Heathrow Flight Paths (hatched rectangles) in which no drones would be flown and the remaining 5km exclusion zone in which drones could be flown.

The reality is that we do not want to plan any action at Heathrow that leads to the orderly and safe closure of airspace. However, Government inaction compels us to act. Our intention is to repeatedly draw attention to the Climate and Ecological Emergency until the Government tells the truth and acts upon that truth.


Accelerating CO2 levels, risking extreme weather and temperature rises as high as 2C

CO2 levels are increasing and accelerating and have just jumped to 415ppm. Scientists warn that concentrations of more than 450ppm risk triggering extreme weather events and temperature rises as high as 2C, beyond which the effects of global warming are likely to become catastrophic and irreversible. [2] Even with average changes of 1.5C which which we are approaching, the risk of crossing into an uninhabitable state of “hothouse earth” is high. The window to act on the Climate and Ecological Emergency is closing.

We don’t want to cause disruption, but we do really need to have an urgent and adult conversation about the emergency. In September 2018, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said: “If we do not change course by 2020, we risk missing the point where we can avoid runaway climate change.

Time is running out. We could quote David Attenborough or the Pope here too, or any number of scientists. In contrast, Theresa May said let’s go for net zero by 2050 – a death sentence for humanity and life itself. [1] And that’s just the climate, we haven’t seen any action on biodiversity loss. Just last month, the United Nations’ IPBES showed that one million species are at risk of extinction unless we change our path.

“We have it in our power to begin the world over again” Thomas Paine

We implore the UK government and all opposition parties to stop and consider whether they want our youth to face Attenborough’s potential civilisational collapse in their middle age?

Expansion at Heathrow is more business at usual. And just won’t cut it.

We ask what is reasonable action in the face of an emergency?

Is it reasonable to continue business as usual? Is it ethical or moral to sit back and watch carbon emissions increase in the name of economic growth? What is the cost of this inaction, for the economy, environment and society?

A single return flight from London to Christchurch New Zealand emits 6 tons of CO2, which is the equivalent of ALL the electricity carbon emissions from the average UK household, for EIGHT years!  A new runway will add the equivalent to the annual CO2 emissions from Cyprus.

If we are to survive, Heathrow Airport needs contraction NOT expansion. And the same applies to airports across the globe.

It’s time to look in the mirror and reflect on our choices – we are at a cliffedge and what the Government does now, or doesn’t do, matters. We need leadership and transformative thinking.

The emergency requires global action, but this will never be achieved if the UK – as one of the richest and fifth biggest historical originator of carbon emissions – does not demonstrate a lead.

Do we really want to wait until we all have to resort to panic measures with dire social and civic consequences?


[1] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jun/04/latest-data-shows-steep-rises-in-co2-for-seventh-year

[2]  https://rebellion.earth/2019/06/12/will-theresa-may-leave-a-legacy-or-pass-down-a-death-sentence/


About Extinction Rebellion:

Time has almost entirely run out to address the ecological crisis which is upon us, including the 6th mass species extinction, global pollution, and abrupt, runaway climate change. Societal collapse and mass death are seen as inevitable by scientists and other credible voices, with human extinction also a possibility, if rapid action is not taken.

Extinction Rebellion believes it is a citizen’s duty to rebel, using peaceful civil disobedience, when faced with criminal inactivity by their Government.

Extinction Rebellion’s key demands are:

  1. Government must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency, working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change.
  2. Government must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025.
  3. Government must create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice.



See earlier: