Climate Change activist

City council leader faces criticism for labelling protestors ‘climate extremists’

  • Manchester City Council leader Richard Leese facing criticism over remark
  • Used phrase 'climate extremists' to describe climate emergency protestors in Manchester
  • Council opposition and climate activists reject description

Councillor Richard Leese, leader of the city council, is facing criticism for his use of the phrase “climate extremists” when describing climate protestors in Manchester.

Councillor Leese had been disussing the August protests on Deansgate by Extinction Rebellion and other climate activist groups when he used the phrase.

He said that “blocking bus routes by which people on low incomes get to work, or tramlines” does not persuade ordinary people that this is a real issue. He then referred to protesters as “climate extremists”.

The leader of the opposition, Liberal Democrat councillor John Leech, said: “For Richard Leese to label climate protestors as extremists is wide of the mark and very unfair on the thousands of activists who simply want governments to sit up, listen and take urgent action.

Liberal Democrat Councillor John Leech
Liberal Democrat Councillor John Leech 

“We may not necessarily agree with some of the actions taken by climate activists, such as grinding public transport to a halt, but it is an insult to call people extremists when they are trying to help avoid unmitigated environmental disaster.” 

The Northern Rebellion protest on Deansgate in August

The use of the phrase has also sparked reaction from local environmental groups.

Climate activist group Rising Up! Manchester Families said: “It suits Richard Leese to call us climate extremists because he doesn’t want to face up to how desperate it is. We’re not extremists, we’re parents who are heartbroken at what scientists tell us faces our children.”

The Northern Quota spoke to two commuters in Manchester about their thoughts on the climate change protests. Sam Lowerson, who commutes to work on the Metrolink, said: “People are protesting peacefully and for a cause and in the interest of us and future generations. It is completely valid.

“I dont think their protests or methods were in any way extreme.”

Commuter Sam Lowerson
Commuter Sam Lowerson


Will McArthur
Commuter Will McArthur 

Will McArthur, who also uses the Metrolink, said: “I think it is proportionate to the scale of the problem which I would have to say is an extreme problem.

“Maybe extreme action needs to be taken so I think it balances itself out.” 

The council meeting had been discussing the positive steps NHS organisations in Manchester have made towards tackling the climate crisis and the potential role it could play in educating people about the issue.

During the meeting Jonny Sadler, programme director for the Manchester Climate Change Agency set out what the city had achieved so far, stating said: “We are making progress but nothing like we need to”.

Manchester City Council has faced criticism for inaction on this issue following its declaration of a climate emergency earlier this year. 

Councillor Angeliki Stogia, executive member for the environment, recently defended the council’s record.

She said: “We are committed to a goal of Manchester becoming carbon neutral by 2038, 12 years ahead of the national target.

“And that’s why a huge amount of initiatives already underway with extensive work being done to establish how this radical reduction in the city’s carbon emissions will be achieved.

“We aren’t starting from scratch. The council has reduced its own carbon emissions by almost 50 per cent since 2010 – exceeding our 41% reduction target.”

Councillor Richard Leese and Manchester City Council have been asked for a response and are yet to respond.


Civic Quater Energy
Ongoing contruction of the Civic Quarter Heat Network

The video clip of the phrase being said at the council Health and Wellbeing Board can be found here. Manchester City Council and Councillor Richard Leese have both been contacted for a comment.