Dozens of activists from the Extinction Rebellion Scotland group were arrested after converging in the city centre, causing major travel disruption and long tailbacks.
Hundreds of placard-carrying activists shut both ends of North Bridge from 3pm shouting slogans calling for an end to climate change and cheering speakers who demanded urgent government action to “tell the truth about the climate and ecological crisis and reverse any inconsistent policies”.
A police cordon was hastily thrown around protesters with traffic redirected away from North Bridge as bemused tourists watched on.
Police Scotland confirmed last night that 29 people - 17 men and 12 women - were arrested for Breach of the Peace. They have all been released and are due to appear in court at a later date.
A large number of officers remained at the scene throughout the afternoon into the evening with some called into action to carry protesters away to waiting police vans or loaded onto a local bus.
Tom Younger, who was part of the human barricade at the Princes Street end of the bridge, said the occupation was “part of a much wider movement” that included school strikes over recent months. The 28-year-old said: “We need to step up and make our voices heard.
“We’re demanding the government goes zero carbon by 2025. It needs to tell citizens the truth about what’s happening and we need a citizens’ assembly to get us there because our political system isn’t capable of delivering the changes that we need. We need those changes delivered in a democratic way if they are going to be for the benefit of everyone and not just the rich and powerful.”
Mr Younger, an anthropologist working with indigenous Peruvians, warned: “People in countries like Peru are already starting to feel the impact of climate change, and we’re going to be feeling them very soon here in Scotland.”
Some activists in themed fancy dress – including a Chinese-style dragon – sang climate change songs while others used portable PA systems booming out music and speeches, lending a carnival atmosphere.
The protest caused chaos for commuters with a number of large number of bus routes having to be diverted with no vehicle access on North Bridge for more than six hours.
Bobbie Winter-Burkey, 31, said: “I would rather not have to do this – block the roads, mess up people’s day – but it’s really critical that more people are aware of what’s happening with the climate crisis.
“Governments aren’t telling the truth, the media isn’t telling the truth, so we need to have people out in capital cities to raise awareness, to empower people to take non-violent direct action to show that it’s an important cause.”
Officers were able to restrict the movements of the campaigners to the Princes Street side of North Bridge at around 6pm. But it wasn’t long before activists held their ground with lines of protesters sitting down in front of a wall of dozens of police officers. The protest in Edinburgh was held after similar action in London on Monday saw widespread disruption, with demonstrators refusing to end their road blocks and more than 200 arrests made.
Superintendent Bob Paris said Police Scotland had been made aware of the protest in advance and had put in place an operation to provide a “proportionate response”.
“The police have both a duty to prevent crime and disorder, and balance the qualified rights of protesters with the rights of the wider public under the European Convention on Human Rights,” he added.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Climate change is an extremely serious global issue. Scotland has been praised internationally for our world-leading efforts in this area. We are demonstrating this global leadership by setting the most ambitious statutory climate change targets of any country in the world for 2020, 2030 and 2040, which will mean Scotland is carbon neutral by 2050.
“We want to go further and achieve net-zero emissions for all greenhouse gases as soon as possible. We are currently awaiting advice from the UK Committee on Climate Change, which is due on May 2.
“If the committee advises that we can now set even more ambitious targets, we will act on that.”