Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old founder of the school strikes for action against climate change, has said she hopes to join the Extinction Rebellion protests when she visits London next week.
The Swedish activist will also take the campaign to the UK parliament, where she will speak to dozens of MPs including the Green party MP Caroline Lucas, the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and the environment secretary, Michael Gove.
Her arrival on Sunday coincides with a surge of concern about the climate. On Thursday the BBC screened a documentary about the crisis, narrated by David Attenborough. In recent days, the governor of the Bank of England, groups of scientists and members of the clergy have added their voices to the call for more ambitious cuts to emissions.
Thousands of Extinction Rebellion campaigners have blocked four areas in central London since the start of the week, and youth activists are staging a demonstration at Heathrow on Friday. Police have made more than 500 arrests but organisers have vowed to continue for another week. There have also been demonstrations by the group in New York, Paris, The Hague and dozens of other cities.
Thunberg, whose strike sparked a global movement of more than a million students in less than a year, was also one of the signatories of the declaration that launched Extinction Rebellion in October. She had previously arranged to be in London after Easter to speak in parliament at the invitation of Lucas, meet student activists in the UK and to talk at a public event co-hosted by the Guardian.
Before her visit, she said she was keen to join the campaigners on the streets. “I would love to participate in their protests while in London if there is time and if they are still protesting. I think it’s one of the most important and hopeful movements of our time. Civil disobedience is necessary to create attention to the ongoing climate and ecological crisis.”
Extinction Rebellion plans to ramp up its protest over the weekend, when it hopes more people will join because of the bank holiday and the warmer weather. More actions, including a picnic on a motorway, are planned for Monday, Earth Day. Organisers say the protests will continue for another week, bolstered by Thunberg’s support.
“She is abso-bloody-lutely important. I thank her from my heart,” said Ronan McNern, a spokesman for the group. “It’s not Extinction Rebellion that people should watch out for. It’s the School Strike 4 Climate, it’s the youth. This is their moment.”
Thunberg has become a global figurehead for the climate movement in the past year. During her Easter holidays, she has been on a European speaking tour and has, so far, met Pope Francis and addressed the European parliament. MEPs gave her speech, which harangued them for spending too long on Brexit and not enough time on climate, a standing ovation.
In the UK parliament next week, she will meet the Speaker of the House of Commons and talk to several dozen MPs.
“Greta is coming to the UK at a time of unprecedented public awareness and action around climate change – and will deliver a powerful message to politicians that they cannot ignore either the rising seas or the rising citizens’ movements demanding action,” said Lucas.
“It’s especially significant given the divisiveness around Brexit and how vital it is that we put aside any political or other differences we might have to respond to the climate emergency.
“All the main opposition parties have agreed to sit down and listen to her and the UK climate strikers she has inspired, and I think this could be a defining moment for how the UK responds to the climate and wider environmental crises.”