By Emma Batha
LONDON, Jan 28 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A former chief scientific adviser to the British government backed the Extinction Rebellion climate change protests on Tuesday as he offered to testify in defence of a group facing trial for gluing themselves to a London airport concourse.
David King, who served as chief scientist under Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, said Extinction Rebellion - like Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg - was playing a vital role in raising visibility around the climate crisis.
"Climate change represents the greatest threat that humanity, as a whole, has ever had to manage," King said in a prepared witness statement.
Britain saw a surge in climate activism last year with the civil disobedience group occupying sites in central London, blocking roads and targeting financial institutions and government buildings.
More than 1,100 protesters have been sentenced so far, with most receiving conditional discharges.
Five activists - a businesswoman, maths student, historian, former teacher and tree surgeon - appeared at City of London Magistrates Court on Tuesday charged with aggravated trespass following a mass protest at London City Airport on Oct. 10.
King, a professor of climate change, arrived at court saying he was ready to give evidence on their behalf, but the judge threw out the case due to a prosecution administrative error.
The protesters embraced each other amid cheers from the public gallery.
King told the Thomson Reuters Foundation he would consider giving evidence in future trials of Extinction Rebellion protesters, but would assess each request on its merits.
"The public voice of climate change has made politicians in this country and around the world take note, and even take action," he said.
"Climate change is the biggest challenge humanity has ever had to face up to. The public voice has got to be heard. What Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion between them have done is exactly that."
In his witness statement, King said the world was on course for 3-4 degrees Celsius of warming by the end of the century, based on current policy commitments.
Britain has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, but Extinction Rebellion wants the target brought forward to 2025.
King said lives would be saved if the government committed to an earlier date.
The London City Airport protest called for the government to issue a moratorium on all airport expansion and conduct a national review.
Extinction Rebellion says the government's expansion plans are incompatible with its 2050 commitment, which is enshrined in law.
James Brown, a Paralympian cyclist who allegedly glued himself to the top of a plane during the airport protest, will stand trial in March. (Reporting by Emma Batha @emmabatha; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)