Climate activists stage sit-in protest in Zurich’s financial heart

Police started clearing the activists around two hours after the early morning protest began. Keystone / Ennio Leanza

Some 200 climate activists blocked the entrances to major UBS and Credit Suisse branches in central Zurich on Monday morning, protesting the banks' investments in fossil fuel projects.

This content was published on August 2, 2021 - 14:40

The activists occupied the front of the Credit Suisse headquarters and a nearby UBS branch on the emblematic Paradeplatz in Zurich, blocking the entries with barrels, tripods and their bodies.

Not long after the start of the protest early Monday morning, police arrived and started to remove the activists one by one. By midday, police said they had taken around 30 people into temporary custody.

The action took aim at the role played by financial institutions in funding environmentally damaging projects, said “Rise up for Change”, a group bringing together organisations including Climatestrike Switzerland and Extinction Rebellion.

Banks – including the Swiss National Bank – have invested billions in projects that extract or use petrol, coal and gas, while people around the world are dying due to the climate crisis, the group said in a statement.

If such institutes were to stop investing in environmentally damaging projects, international climate goals could finally have a chance of being met, they claim.

In a statement of response later on Monday, UBS said that climate protection was a “top priority” and that the bank was “committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions across our business to net zero by 2050, with science-based interim targets for 2025, 2030, and 2035”.

Keystone / Ennio Leanza

Civil disobedience

Monday’s protest was part of a week of action organised by Rise up for Change. Currently, hundreds of activists are gathered in a makeshift (and officially sanctioned) camp in Zurich. They plan to move on to Bern this Friday, for a protest in front of the Swiss National Bank.

Acts of civil disobedience, particularly targeting banks, have been common in Switzerland in the past few years, with activists pushing the limits of what amounts to justified action.

Some judges (when the acts are brought to court) have had little sympathy for such acts, while others have deemed them justified by the climate emergency; in one of the better-known cases in 2020, a dozen activists who had occupied a Credit Suisse branch were first acquitted before seeing the decision overturned at an appeals court.

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