The declaration of a climate emergency draws attention to the fact that we are not doing what we must to avert a climate catastrophe. The declaration seeks to mobilize society and government to urgently act on the climate crisis. Although momentum has been growing for years, 2019 is the year that this movement came of age. This campaign is sweeping the globe with hundreds of cities having already declared climate emergencies and mounting pressure to make such declarations at the national level. The UK is the first nation to declare a climate emergency and grassroots pressure is building in Australia, Canada, and the United States. All around the world the notion is gaining traction. More than 517 councils that govern 46 million people in seven countries have made climate emergency declarations.
The idea of declaring a climate emergency has been around for years. As reported by the Guardian in 2016 a climate scientist by the name of Stefan Rahmstorf was among the first to publicly declare a climate emergency.
There are dozens of action groups that support the declaration of a climate emergency. Student strikes and organizations like the Extinction Rebellion have helped to make the climate emergency movement a mainstream phenomenon.
Climate declaration motions differ but they all share a common focus on raising awareness related to the urgency of carbon-neutrality. These motions entail specific plans and specific actions to become carbon neutral by a specified date (a frequently ascribed date for achieving carbon neutrality is 2030). These plans are about ways of minimizing climate impacts and they can include transitioning to renewable energy, enhanced efficiency, improving public transit and promoting local food production. To see detailed examples of climate emergency motions click here.
The movement seeks to eliminate additional atmospheric carbon to protect the economy, people, species, and ecosystems. This is a society wide mobilization of resources that seeks to scale action sufficient to alter our perilous trajectory. The scope of the required action is commonly compared to war-time mobilizations.
Declarations in Scotland and Whales as well as in cities like London have helped to encourage members of parliament to support a national motion in the United Kingdom. Britain and Wales are the first countries in the world where a bipartisan parliament has declared a climate emergency. In the UK such declarations have been passed by hundreds of local councils governing 26 million people.
The motion that passed in the UK parliament was introduced by Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and it calls for a process of rapid decarbonization.
“Are we content to hand down a broken planet to our children? That is the question members must ask themselves today. We have the chance to act before it’s too late. It’s a chance that won’t be available to succeeding generations. It is our historic duty to take it,” Corbyn said in a statement.
In 2017 Hoboken New Jersey became the first US city, and Montgomery County, Maryland became the first US county, to declare climate emergencies and commit to rapid elimination climate change causing emissions.
In 2017, The Climate Mobilization began to conceptualize and build the climate emergency campaign.
When London declared Climate Emergency the City Assembly’s statement specifically cited the work of Climate Mobilization organizers in the cities of Hoboken and Berkeley as their inspiration.
In July 2018, the Council of the City of Richmond in California followed Berkeley and Los Angeles in passing a motion to declare a climate emergency. In October 2018, the City of Oakland did the same.
In August, 2018, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) passed a climate emergency resolution which is a reassertion of a 2016 DNC platform amendment, calling for climate mobilization. The resolution expresses “the sense of the DNC that climate change poses an urgent and severe threat to our national security”.
The climate emergency movement is growing in Australia with a total of 17 local governments representing more than a million people having made formal declarations. In 2017 Darebin City unanimously supported a motion to declare a climate emergency making it the first Australian council to do so.
In September 2018, Councillors in Moreland City adopted a resolution that declared a climate emergency. Two months later Ballarat City Council passed a similar motion and in April 2019
Also in April a new climate emergency party called called Independents for Climate Action Now (ICAN) was formed ahead of federal elections which are scheduled to take place on May 18th. More than 75 federal election candidates have signed the Climate Emergency Declaration petition.
Groups of Australian parents and doctors have issued their support for
the declaration that demands government action.
In January 2019, Vancouver became the first Canadian city to declare a climate emergency followed shortly thereafter by Halifax. In March Kingston became the first city in Ontario to make such a declaration. In April city councilors in Ottawa voted overwhelmingly in favor of declaring a climate emergency and the Guelph city council is about to vote on a similar motion.
In Quebec more than 300 municipalities have endorsed a Déclaration d’Urgence Climatique – a climate emergency declaration, representing more then 70 per cent of the Quebec population. This includes major cities like Montreal, Quebec City, Sherbrooke and Trois-Rivières.
Climate change and specifically Canada’s carbon tax will be an important election issue in the forthcoming Canadian federal elections scheduled for October 21.
German speaking cities
In 2018 Basel officially declared a climate emergency, making it the first local government in the German-speaking world to do so. The pressure is building in other Swiss cities including Zurich. In May the southern German city of Constance become the first in the nation to pass a resolution declaring a climate emergency. People in other German cities are also pushing for a declaration. This includes cities such as Berlin, Leipzig, Kiel, Dortmund, Düsseldorf, Cologne and Erlangen.
There are also calls to declare a climate emergency in the wake of recent devastating storms and floods in Africa. South Africa is emerging as the epicenter of the climate emergency movement on the continent.
All around the world people are waking up to the dangers of the climate catastrophe and demanding action from their governments.