About 100 demonstrators walked into the roundabout outside the Bank of England in the City and sat down in the road at 7am on Monday.
In a statement, the group said: “Extinction Rebellion this morning are disrupting the system bankrolling the environmental crisis, The Guardian reported.
“The day of disruption, which will target financial institutions, seeks to highlight the far greater disruption faced by those living in the environments systematically being destroyed by UK-backed companies.
“The ecological damage is global, and it is hitting the global south now.” Protesters said they were switching their focus to the financial institutions “funding environmental destruction”.
Police circulated through the crowds and began making arrests.
Chay Harwood, 23, from Bristol, said: “We are here in the financial district because we know for a fact that these companies and institutions have a vested interest in deforestation and the decimation of people’s lives and livelihoods, not only in the Amazon but in the global south in general.”
The protest outside the major finance institutions bankrolling big oil follows the Guardian’s polluters investigation, which found that the world’s three largest money managers had a combined $300bn fossil fuel investment portfolio, using money from people’s private savings and pension contributions.
The Guardian found that BlackRock, Vanguard and State Street, which together oversee assets worth more than China’s entire GDP, had continued to grow billion-dollar stakes in some of the most carbon-intensive companies even after the Paris agreement, which set out the urgent need to drastically scale back fossil fuel expansion.
The two largest asset managers, BlackRock and Vanguard, have also routinely opposed motions at fossil fuel companies that would have forced directors to take more action on climate change.
On Monday morning, the Metropolitan police announced there had been 1,336 arrests linked to the protests since they began last week. The rate of arrests appeared to have slowed over the weekend as the group focused instead on mass actions involving members of the general public.
Near the Bank of England, Andrew Medhurst, a former City trader turned full-time activist, said the financial industry needed to realize that some of the projects it was financing were “essentially leading us to destruction”.
“We have no more time left in terms of taking action,” he said. “We haven’t got 12 years. We should have started yesterday. We have to decarbonize our economies, so for the banks to be lending money to fossil fuel companies – it’s just barmy. It doesn’t make sense.
“It basically means there’s a disconnect between those emotional family connections [between City workers] and their future children and grandchildren, and making money, which is morally repugnant.”
Emily Grossman, an expert in molecular biology and genetics, said she was protesting outside the big finance houses to shine a light on the central role they played in the climate emergency.
Grossman, who said she was prepared to be arrested during Monday’s protests, said the big banks in the City had lent hundreds of billions of pounds to fossil fuel projects in the past year – even when the UK was publicly committing to reducing its carbon output.
“They are the ones who are pushing ahead with these huge investments … they are using our own money – in terms of pensions and investments – to drive us all towards climate catastrophe … They are threatening the lives of our children and grandchildren for the sake of their profits.”