Coffs Youth Climate Alliance members with Councillor Cassell after council Climate Emergency Declaration

Climate Emergency trends in 2022

An overview of:

  • New Climate Emergency declarations
  • Local council Climate Emergency action reporting
  • Country-specific trends
  • VECO achievements
  • Klimakrise declarations in Norway
  • A new and worrying misuse of ‘climate emergency’
  • and a huge missed opportunity in the UK

New Climate Emergency declarations

The most recent Australian local council to declare a Climate Emergency was Coffs Harbour City Council. A long campaign by the Coffs Youth Climate Alliance (pictured above) was instrumental in getting the motion by Councillor Cassell over the line.

There were seven new declarations in Australia during 2022: Albury City Council on 28 March, Nillumbik Shire Council on 26 April, South Australia State Parliament (both Houses) on 31 May, Liverpool City Council on 27 July, Derwent Valley Council on 28 July, Whitehorse City Council on 12 September, then Coffs Harbour City Council on 8 December. In addition, Knox City Council upgraded their earlier ‘recognition’ to a Climate Emergency Declaration.

Globally there were 79 new declarations in 2022 (see the ‘Fact sheet’ tab of cedamia’s CED record sheet), the lowest annual count since the global spread of declarations began in late 2018. But there might have been more. I suspect that some are not reported in the media now that declarations are less novel, and declarations in some countries might not have been reported in English-language media.

At the local council level the 2022 declarations included 27 in USA, 9 in the UK, 8 in Canada, and 27 in Japan.

Officials displaying Peru's Climate Emergency declaration document
Emergencia Climática declaration in Peru

There were also two new national declarations: Peru in January and Vanuatu in May, meaning there are now 40 countries that have at least one Climate Emergency declaration either at the local or national level.

Local council Climate Emergency action reporting

These days the ‘climate emergency’ news articles in my daily Google Alerts feed are less often about new declarations. Instead an increasing number of articles report on newly adopted Climate Emergency Action Plans or give progress reports on plans and targets adopted earlier.

A lot of the action plans have taken 1-2 years to develop. That might seem awfully slow for an ’emergency’ response, but the focus seems to be on ‘getting it right’. In many cases there has been initial consultation and analysis of baselines, then development of a draft strategy, and finally a lengthy public consultation process. It’s understandable that all takes time, but I’ve often thought it would be good to pick one or two no-brainer actions – actions that anyone could predict would be part of the action plan – and to implement those immediately to show their communities they are serious about taking action.

One local council is now doing just that. Port Hope Municipal Council in Canada declared a Climate Emergency just last week. They plan to develop an action plan during 2023, but as an intermediate step they have asked staff to identify 3 priority actions to be adopted within 60 days.

Country-specific trends

After a while climate action plans all start to look much the same. (You can see quite a few of them in Column K of cedamia’s CED record sheet.) The required solutions are similar for most local jurisdictions in developed countries. Even so, some trends have emerged over the last year or so.

Banning the use of fossil gas in new buildings is becoming a feature of some action plans, particularly in Canada, California, and New York. In almost all US action plans, there is a strong emphasis on equity, on not leaving behind black and brown or other disadvantaged neighbourhoods.

Two major responsibilities for larger UK local councils are local public transport and social housing. Accordingly their action plans tend to include decarbonisation of public transport and energy efficiency upgrades for social (and other) housing. Housing insulation schemes and replacement of gas and oil for home heating are particularly common themes. Tree planting and rewilding are also very common elements of UK action plans.

Local councils in Australia have a relatively narrow range of responsibilities and control – not quite just ‘roads, rates, and rubbish’, but close – so it’s not surprising that their action plans focus first on what they can control easily, that is, their own operations. Many seem to focus first on stationary energy, meaning solar panels on their own buildings, LED street lighting, and the VECO scheme below. Some are making a start on electrification of fleets, but that is harder due the high cost of EVs in Australia.

VECO achievements

We reported in an earlier blog article that Queenscliffe Borough Council had achieved a 73% reduction in emissions from it’s own operations in the first year since declaring a Climate Emergency. A large part of that achievement was due to participation in the Victorian Energy Collaboration (VECO) power purchase agreement whereby 51 Victorian Councils signed up to buy renewable electricity. Collectively this has resulted in a reduction of 172,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions over its first year.

Over the last week or so there have been yet more happy reports of the emissions reductions and cost savings achieved from other participating councils over the last year: Ballarat (12,000 tonnes and 25% cost saving), Moonee Valley (6,000 tonnes and $92,000 reductions), Bass Coast Shire (2,000 tonnes and $30,000 reductions), and Greater Shepparton (6,406 tonnes and $99,571 reductions).

Hopefully other regions in Australia will be inspired to develop similar collaborations, or perhaps they are already working on doing so. It must be an enormous amount of highly challenging work for the core organisers, but once the groundwork is done it sounds like a no-brainer for individual councils to sign on.

Klimakrise declarations in Norway

Extinction Rebellion die-in in Norway

With the addition of Norway, the number of countries shown in the global list as having at least one Climate Emergency Declaration made a sudden jump from 39 to 40 in December 2022, but this didn’t represent new activity. According to this article, quite a few local governments in Norway declared a ‘klimakrise’ back in 2019. So far we’ve only been able to confirm and add three of them due to a rearrangement of council boundaries in 2020.

At first glance ‘klimakrise’ looks like it means climate crisis, not climate emergency, and if that were so these declarations would not be added to the global list. However, it now appears that klimakrise does equate to climate emergency – please correct me if I am wrong!

The Extinction Rebellion banner in the photo above uses klimakrise whereas an equivalent English-language banner would use ‘climate emergency’. But perhaps a more convincing hint is provided in the agenda notes for one of the Norwegian declarations. It refers to the climate emergency declarations in the UK as being precedents and it refers to those UK declarations as being ‘klimakrise’ declarations.

A new and worrying misuse of ‘climate emergency’

This MalayMail article on 22 December 2022 contains the following quote from the Home Minister:

For the moment, there is no need to declare a Climate Emergency because the situation (flooding) is still under control.

This was in response to a motion from another MP “seeking the Dewan Rakyat to declare a climate emergency and discuss immediate flood mitigation measures”. From the context it is clear what they really mean is a declaration of flood emergency, not a climate emergency declaration in the usual sense.

Then, the very next day I saw this article title in Yes! Magazine: Social Connections Save Lives During Climate Emergencies. Here they are using ‘climate emergencies’ (plural!) to refer to extreme weather events such as storms, heat waves, and cold snaps.

That’s not what ‘climate emergency’ means! Those weather events are flood / storm / heat / cold emergencies. They may well be more dangerous as a result of our changing climate but, unlike the climate emergency, these climate-related emergencies are isolated symptoms not the huge underlying cause.

Missed opportunity in the UK

Screenshot of UK government energy saving campaign website
Screenshot from the campaign launch press release

The UK government is spending £18million on a public information campaign called ‘It All Adds Up’. That includes a new dedicated website containing fairly comprehensive information about what everyone can do to reduce their energy bills by reducing their energy use. Some tips involve no cost and immediate savings. Others involve up-front costs but promise savings in the longer term

It’s all excellent information, but climate does not get a mention at either of those links. The list of tips is actually a pretty good match for the climate actions listed on local council climate emergency pages as ways everyone can reduce energy use in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for the sake of everyone’s climate future.

With very little change the ‘It All Adds Up’ public information campaign could be transformed into a UK government campaign asking everyone to do their bit to help tackle the climate emergency. All the suggested actions could be badged as climate emergency actions – actions that everyone can take because, happily, doing so will also save them money.

Does this matter?

If the outcome is the same (lower energy use), does it really matter how it is ‘sold’ to the public? I think it matters greatly, for two reasons.

Firstly, it will take action and effort by everyone to turn the climate emergency around, and giving visibility to climate action efforts by lots of ‘ordinary’ people will help normalise taking climate action for its own sake. By focusing purely on the financial benefits of reducing energy use, the above campaign effectively makes energy saving actions invisible as climate actions. They become financial benefit actions. This is such a waste when reducing energy use is a large part of what many of us can do (and are doing) to help tackle the climate emergency!

Secondly, by focusing purely on energy poverty and financial savings, there’s an implication that the campaign is only relevant for poor households. Anyone who is rich enough to not care about high energy bills is not expected to do anything. But for climate reasons everyone should be reducing energy use, and perhaps that applies even more to rich households than to ones who are struggling.

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