Climate activists dump coal inside Swiss bank UBS

FILE PHOTO: Supporters of 12 climate activists celebrate the not guilty verdict of the District Court of Lausanne for their tennis sit-in protest inside a branch of Credit Suisse bank in 2018 in Renens, Switzerland January 13, 2020. REUTERS/Emma Farge

GENEVA (Reuters) - Swiss climate activists dumped coal inside a branch of bank UBS on Tuesday to protest against its funding of fossil fuel projects, a day after a judge acquitted 12 climate protesters over a stunt inside Credit Suisse.

A witness said 20-30 activists took part in Tuesday’s protest in the student city of Lausanne, carrying a banner saying “We will leave when you quit fossil fuels”. Police later dragged them out.

“The action was intended to be symbolic and give them back the coal whose extraction they financed,” said Gary, a witness from Greve du Climat Vaud (Climate Strike Vaud), who declined to give his full name.

UBS, Switzerland’s biggest bank, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

UBS says it supports clients “in preparing for success in an increasingly carbon-constrained world”. A bank document showed it does not finance new coal-fired power plants and is “severely restricting” lending to coal mining.

Switzerland has ambitious plans to cut its emissions but activists say its bigger impact is via its financial center, which protesters are now targeting. Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg is due to join protesters in a Lausanne march on Friday that is expected to draw thousands.

In November 2018, a group of young activists played tennis inside a Credit Suisse branch, prompting the bank to sue them. They were fined 21,600 Swiss francs ($22,320) but the judge viewed their action as “necessary and proportional”.

A Swiss prosecutor for the canton of Vaud said in a statement on Tuesday that the ruling was a “surprising response to a fundamental legal principle” which merited the opinion of a higher court.

Lawyer Marie-Pomme Moinat told Reuters her team would continue to defend the activists pro bono in the event of an appeal.

Reporting by Emma Farge and Denis Balibouse, Stephanie Nebehay and Brenna Neghaiwi Hughes, Editing by Timothy Heritage