Geopolitics in the Anthropocene: How global is Extinction Rebellion?

#WR2050 13 / December 2023


  • Amanda King, PhD candidate at University of Hertfordshire

Despite urgent warnings, fossil fuel emissions continue to rise. Fossil fuel geopolitics undermine the United Nations’ ability to act, in this vacuum global movements such as Extinction Rebellion play a critical role in holding governments and corporations to account. Sub-Saharan Africa is the final frontier for major oil exploration (with the Russian invasion of Ukraine intensifying interest). The East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) provides an urgent test of Extinction Rebellion’s (XR’s) global coalition working and effectiveness within the geopolitics of the Anthropocene. Pipeline construction, from land locked Uganda to coastal Tanzania (from where the oil is shipped to France and China), will be completed in 2025. Over its 25-year lifetime the pipeline will produce an estimated 379 million tonnes CO2 - a Carbon Bomb - prompting the Financial Times to label EACOP a litmus test for large scale oil development in the age of net zero.

Internal XR coalitions are fleeting. In 2019 XR Global Support (XR GS) initiated the Pass the Mic scheme to link up majority-minority world groups. However, after an initial “flurry on social media” (minority world/global north amplifying the work of majority/global south) “nothing happened.” The XR groups conclude that a lack of long-term XR GS support is the explanation, whereas XR GS conclude that coalitions only survive “if they are meant to be.” In contrast, external XR coalitions (working with non-XR groups) while also fleeting can be both global and effective. The 2023 Global Day of Action to Stop EACOP, coordinated by the NGO France, continued the pressure on EACOP’s financiers. In the UK, XR focused on Standard Chartered Bank’s London HQ during their AGM. Shortly after the bank announced withdrawal from EACOP.

Unsurprisingly, few XR activists see the movement as having global reach; instead, it is international (with groups on every continent). Most minority world XR groups assumed that XR did not need to be global or was unable to be global due to its decentralised structure. Most majority world XR groups were eager to see improved global collaboration, emphasising this required the resourcing of majority world groups and taking time to build understanding, to “really talk with XR groups in the global south … to reflect and be more able to resolve each other’s problems.”

XR (in coalition with the supported Africa-based global campaign #stopeacop) has been effective against the pipeline. Over 45 international banks, including Standard Chartered, and insurers have abandoned EACOP as a direct result of the campaign. While the Export-Import Bank of China and other Chinese state-owned companies are considering whether to cover the outstanding $3 billion required for project completion, XR and #stopeacop have delayed EACOP by 15 years and kept “the oil in the soil.” Understanding XR’s potential for greater effectiveness is therefore vital.