question about the effect of Climate Emergency declarations on the local community

Community impact of Climate Emergency Declarations

Last week Whitehorse City Council in Victoria became the 115th jurisdiction in Australia to declare a Climate Emergency. That prompted the following question from a journalism student living in that area:

What is the effect within the local general community when their local council declares a Climate Emergency?

That raises another question – what percentage of the local population actually hear about the declaration?

I had to confess that I have no data on either point, and I can’t think of an efficient way of trying to collect that data either!

Do any readers have any data on reactions from the general public, or on how many people have heard (or not heard) about their local declaration? If so, please get in touch or leave a comment below this blog post. It will be valuable input even if it is just random anecdotal evidence, or the effect on you personally, rather than hard data.

What we do know

One theory of change driving the early Climate Emergency Declaration campaign was that a declaration by one local council would have influence in multiple directions. Not only would it have an effect on their own local community, it would also act sideways (to and from other local councils), upwards to higher levels of government, and inwards to their own staff.

  • Sideways: this has been working extremely well, as evidenced by the rapid spread of local government declarations. In addition, there are many examples of neighbouring councils sharing expertise and collaborating on initiatives, such as the power purchase agreement organised by the Victorian Energy Collaboration (VECO), resulting in 46 Australian councils now buying renewable energy for their own operations. At Queenscliffe Borough Council, for example, that helped achieve a whopping 73% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from council’s own operations in just one year.
  • Upwards: in some regions there has been a direct regional influence. The Quebec state government declared a Climate Emergency after 403 of their local councils had done so, and the South Australian state government did so after 16 local councils covering 45% of the population in SA had issued declarations. In other cases the influence has been general rather than regional, but it is unlikely any of the 18 national and 41 subnational government declarations would have occurred were it not for the precedents set globally by numerous local councils.
  • Inwards: anecdotal evidence suggests that at some councils, their declaration and subsequent climate action focus has built engagement and enthusiasm for increased climate action amongst council’s own staff and Councillors, but I have not seen any publicly available data. What we do know is that some councils have included an internal climate-related education component in their action plans, and quite a few have hired external consultants to help staff learn more about what they can do.
  • Outwards: as stated above, we have no data on the effect of their Climate Emergency Declaration within a council’s own local community. However, in a more general global sense there clearly has been a broad diffuse outwards effect which goes beyond what was anticipated by the sideways-upwards-inwards-outwards concept. The term ‘climate emergency’ is now used very widely and was heralded as being the word of the year in 2019. By December 2020 it had reached the UN, with Antonio Guterres urging all countries to declare a Climate Emergency. In addition, numerous non-government entities – universities, schools, businesses, churches, and association bodies (eg. Architects Declare) – have declared a Climate Emergency. (You can see some of them in a sadly incomplete list here.)

So, if we did have the data, what might success look like in terms of the effect on the local community when its own council declares a Climate Emergency?

Scenario 1: Sounding the alarm

A key reason for an official trusted body to declare any sort of emergency is so that everyone knows about the danger and knows what to do (and not do) to increase their own safety. Importantly, an emergency declaration also brings out the best in people, leading to abandoning business-as-usual and going ‘above and beyond’ for the sake of the common good.

Similarly, I’d like to think that when their local council declares a Climate Emergency, everyone in the local community firstly knows there has been a declaration, and secondly, those who have been complacent about climate will:

  • pay more attention to climate information
  • change their behaviour
  • start helping others around them to respond to the emergency

But does that actually happen? Have any local residents been jolted out of climate complacency and into taking climate-positive actions in response to their local council declaring a Climate Emergency?

Scenario 2: Giving visibility to collective community effort

We all know we can’t do it alone. Climate-aware people might be discouraged from taking action and prone to pushing climate issues to the back of their minds if they think nobody else is doing anything. Many local councils were already taking at least some climate action, and some were doing a very large amount, but were their local communities aware of that before they declared a Climate Emergency?

I’d like to think that local council declarations and public commitments to climate action make everyone aware that collectively everyone’s actions can make a difference because:

  • their own council is treating climate like an emergency and is taking action accordingly
  • they are actively encouraging everyone in the community to take action, and reporting back on what members of the community are doing
  • and plenty of other local councils and communities globally are also joining in to help

Of course we still need to convince higher levels of government to pull the big climate levers, but a rising tide of engagement and action at the community level should make that easier to achieve.

Scenario 3: Sowing the seeds

Even if some of the local community initially fail to hear that their council has declared a Climate Emergency, I’d like to think that it will be brought to their attention later via projects that effectively engage a wide range of residents. I’m thinking, for example, of this charming scheme by Leeds City Council in the UK:

Leeds City Council is once again encouraging residents to get involved in an annual seed collection to help with the ambitious target of planting 5.8m trees over 25 years across the city.

Each Autumn people of all ages collect acorns, beech nuts, sweet chestnuts, and conkers which are then delivered to a specialist nursery to grow into seedlings. They are then planted in local parks and green spaces. What an engaging, enjoyable, visible, and empowering community activity! I can imagine a scenario that goes something like this:

  • Mummy, why are all those people picking up acorns?
  • I don’t know. Let’s ask them.
  • Council’s Climate Emergency declaration…planting millions of trees…everyone helping…
  • Mummy can we help find acorns too?

Please let us all know about any particularly effective schemes your council might have found for engaging their entire community.


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A semon representing new fossil fuel projects and a smiley-face world for a safe climate

Quebec: Climate Emergency Declaration and fossil fuel ban

Quebec declared a Climate Emergency in 2019, and in April 2022 Quebec banned all new coal, oil, and gas extraction and production. This ban is a massively important precedent, but I’d not heard about it until I saw this announcement from the David Suzuki Foundation.

Quebec has ended fossil fuel exploration and development projects on its territory — a historic victory for its ecosystems and population … proving that it’s possible to act on the science the climate emergency requires.

Charles Bonhomme, Public Affairs and Communications Manager

Quebec has huge amounts of hydroelectricity, perhaps making a fossil fuel ban easier to achieve than in many other jurisdictions. But even so, the Suzuki article mentions a handful of proposed oil and gas projects that now will never be able to go ahead. It also claims Quebec is the “first jurisdiction on Earth to ban fossil fuel development in its territory — a visionary lead for all of Canada, and the world.”

It is certainly visionary and makes Quebec an inspiring precedent to emulate, but it isn’t actually the first. The first subnational jurisdiction to ban new fossil fuel projects was the Australian Capital Territory when it signed on to the Fossil Fuel Non-proliferation Treaty in June 2021. In May 2022 the state legislature of Hawaii also signed that treaty. However, neither the ACT or Hawaii had current or proposed fossil fuel projects, so in that respect the Quebec ban could be counted as the first to achieve a really tangible benefit.

Fossil fuel bans as a follow-on action to Climate Emergency Declarations

Banning new fossil fuel exploration and extraction seems like such a very obvious first step to take after declaring a Climate Emergency for any jurisdiction that has control over such things. It is essential even if it is hard to achieve. However, so far Quebec, the ACT, and Hawaii are the only ones I’ve heard of doing so out of the 41 subnational jurisdictions (states, provinces, etc) and 18 nations globally that have passed a Climate Emergency Declaration (CED).

South Australia has declared a Climate Emergency, and like Quebec has much less dependence on fossil fuels than many regions. Could South Australia be the next jurisdiction to sign the non-proliferation treaty and/or simply ban new fossil fuel projects?

In Australia it is the state governments that make fossil fuel decisions and building regulations rather than local councils, but Darebin (and maybe some other CED local councils) have sought state government exemptions to enable them to ban gas connections to new buildings in their area. Local councils can also sign on to the Fossil Fuel Non-proliferation Treaty like five of the Australian CED councils have done (Sydney, Darebin, Maribyrnong, Moreland and Yarra), and they can lobby their state governments to do so too.

Climate Emergency Declarations in Quebec

Climate Emergency awareness seems to be unusually high in Quebec.

In Montreal 150,000 people turned up in May 2019 for the first of the really large global school climate strikes, by far the biggest turnout anywhere. For that particular strike, numbers of 30,000 or less were reported for other major cities. The September 2019 global school climate strike in Montreal was even bigger, with an estimated 500,000 attendees, compared with 100,000 or similar in other major cities.

GMob campaigners promoting climate emergency declarations in Quebec
Promotion of GMob Climate Emergency Declarations in Quebec

Climate Emergency Declarations in Quebec have taken a different path to those elsewhere, with no apparent cross-fertilisation between Quebec and other regions. The GMob Climate Emergency Declaration (Déclaration d’Urgence Climatique) is a strong declaration statement that was drafted by the GMob team. They lobbied all Quebec local councils to sign that declaration rather than having each council develop their own CED motion. In most other countries – South Korea was an exception – each council has been responsible for developing their own declaration text albeit with a degree of copying and pasting from earlier declaration texts, particularly in the UK and USA.

At the time of the first 20 Quebec declaration sign-ons in September 2018 there were already four CED councils in Australia and four in USA, but Quebec campaigners told us they had not heard about those. There were another 80 declarations in Montreal in November 2018, around the time of the first CED in the UK, but similarly we in Australia did not hear about any of the Quebec declarations till much later.

As of April 2021, 525 local councils, representing 83% of the population of Quebec, have signed the GMob declaration. Of those, 403 councils had already signed by the time of the Quebec state-level Climate Emergency declaration in November 2019. Quebec has thus been one of the few regions where the pattern campaigners expected has materialised: first a groundswell of climate urgency support at the local level, then a state-level CED, followed by major state-level actions such as the recent ban on new fossil fuel projects.

The power of precedents

The global spread of CEDs has been helped along by the power of precedents, with clear cross-fertilisation firstly from Australia to USA, then from USA to the UK before becoming widely visible and spreading to Europe, the rest of Canada, South America, and Asia.

It is hoped something similar will happen with bans on new fossil fuel projects, but precedents only have power if they are seen!

If you want South Australia to follow its CED with a ban on new fossil fuel projects, you could try telling your MPs about the precedents set by the ACT, Hawaii, and Quebec. If you want your local CED council to restrict fossil fuel use in new buildings, or sign on to the fossil fuel treaty, they are likely to prick up their ears if you tell them about the other CED councils that have already taken those initiatives. And please tell us all in a comment below if you know of other fossil fuel bans I’ve missed!


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map showing the 114 Climate Emergency Declarations in Australia before August 2022

Climate Emergency: declarations and/or actions?

Last week saw two new Climate Emergency Declarations (CEDs) in Australia, taking the total to 114, along with some interesting twists and turns. Liverpool City Council in NSW and Derwent Valley Council in Tasmania both passed CED motions, and Eurobodalla Shire Council adopted a new 10-year Climate Action Plan but postponed a decision on declaring a Climate Emergency.

The Liverpool CED is the first example I’ve seen of a council developing their climate action plan as a precursor to passing a Climate Emergency motion. However, in April this year Nillumbik Shire Council also took an atypical step by declaring a Climate Emergency and simultaneously adopting their Climate Action Plan 2022-2032.

Item 2 of the Liverpool motion explicitly “Acknowledges the progress made in developing and adopting a Climate Change Policy and Action Plan”. The preamble to their motion provides a clear hint of a reason for doing so:

Some have called declarations of climate emergencies as largely symbolic or tokenistic, that don’t entail substantial or systematic changes.

Claims that CEDs are ‘just words’ are so ubiquitous that it is easy to imagine a council wanting to avoid such criticism. But is it a valid criticism? Where is the evidence? Have CED critics bothered to look at the track records of CED councils to see what they have done, or do they just assume that claim is true because such a large number of media articles say so?

Which should come first – climate emergency declarations or action plans?

The vast majority of CED councils globally have declared a Climate Emergency first. Many (but not all) of the CED motions have included a commitment to develop and implement a Climate Emergency Action Plan.

The Derwent Valley CED motion follows that typical pattern. Part of Item C commits to:

Engage with our community, staff, climate experts, and other stakeholders to develop a Climate Emergency Action Plan in line with the review of the Council’s Strategic Plan

The discussion points included in the minutes identify many advantages of declaring a Climate Emergency, but one that relates specifically to the timing of a declaration states:

Declaring a climate emergency would provide a clear mandate for the council to embed climate emergency response in our operations and put climate emergency response as the top priority for all strategy and policy reviews.

In contrast, Eurobodalla Shire’s approach appears to be to wait on a mandate from their community, firstly to develop the action plan they’ve just adopted, then to potentially declare a Climate Emergency sometime in the future.

The declaration first scenario reflects the notion that a local council has a responsibility to take a leadership role in an emergency: firstly to announce that there is an emergency, and then to say what they are doing and what the local community can do to tackle the emergency. That makes sense to me, but on the other hand, a key challenge for society-wide change is for local councils to ‘take the community along’ with their climate emergency action. From that perspective, it will be interesting to see if the Eurobodalla approach ultimately proves to be more effective.

Fact check: Are Climate Emergency Declarations ‘just words’?

The Australia section of cedamia’s global CED data sheet shows links to 89 climate action plans (81% of CED councils). They have a wide variety of plan names, not necessarily Climate Emergency Action Plan or even Climate Action Plan and some are still at the draft stage, but almost all are climate focused action plans developed in response to passing a CED. A few plans, such as the 2025 Carbon Neutral Adelaide Plan, were adopted prior to council declaring a Climate Emergency. Even so the Adelaide plan has one of the most ambitious community-wide carbon neutral target dates.

Pie chart showing the community-wide carbon neutral target dates of CED councils in Australia

14.3% of Australian CED local councils have set a 2030 carbon neutral target date for their entire community, 11.6% have set 2040, and 9.8% have set 2050. These dates reflect the relative difficulty for a council to affect the carbon emissions of local residents, business, and industry. However, council’s own operations generally only account for 1-2% of all the climate-damaging emissions from their local area. That makes it critical that councils find innovative ways of inspiring action within their communities and making it easier for everyone to ‘do the right thing’.

Pie chart showing the carbon neutral target dates of CED councils in Australia for their own operations

Local councils have close to complete control over their own carbon emissions and there are some notable success stories. 9.8% of Australian CED councils have already achieved carbon neutrality for their own operations. 11.6% have set a 2025 target, and 20.5% have a 2030 target.

I suppose one might argue that even action plans and targets are ‘just words’ and it is actual outcomes that count. More on specific actions taken by CED councils in future blog posts, but in the meantime you can see some of them on cedamia’s post-CED action page. Please leave a comment below if you have something to add to this story. (If reading this article via email, go to https://www.cedamia.org/news/ to comment.)


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Knox City Council meeting which passed a motion to declare (not just recognise) the Climate Emergency

From recognition to declaration: Knox City Council

This is a first! Or, at least, to the best of my knowledge Knox City Council is the first jurisdiction anywhere to upgrade an earlier motion recognising the Climate Emergency in order to explicitly join the ranks of local councils that have declared a Climate Emergency.

On 27 September 2021 Knox City Council adopted a new climate response plan, and in association with that they also recognised the Climate Emergency. Then, this week at their 25 July meeting, Cr Jude Dwight successfully proposed a new motion to explicitly declare a Climate Emergency.

Mayor Susan Laukens supported the motion to reaffirm the council’s commitment to act. “It is real, it is happening and climate scientists have been warning us of extreme weather events,” she said. “We need to be advocating and show leadership in this space”.

The new motion begins:

That Council

  1. Officially and publicly declare a Climate Emergency;
  2. Reaffirms strong commitment to the Climate Emergency and climate change mitigation and adaptation, as evidenced through…

To declare or to recognise – what is the issue?

A note on cedamia’s global list of Climate Emergency Declaration (CED) jurisdictions states that:

We include a jurisdiction if their resolution text includes ‘climate emergency’ or the equivalent in the local language. The resolution can declare, note, acknowledge, recognise (or similar) a climate emergency, or it can place climate emergency in quotation marks.

Accordingly, the earlier Knox City Council was recorded in the global list at the time it occurred (but it has now been updated to reflect the change from ‘recognise’ to ‘declare’).

But what prompted this note and this policy?

Warming banner - declare a Climate Emergency

As the above banner says, the grassroots Climate Emergency Declaration (CED) campaign which began in 2016 clearly asked all levels of government to declare a Climate Emergency. That’s what you do when you become aware of an emergency situation. You declare there is one so that everyone knows to take action if they want to remain safe.

In practice, particularly at first, many jurisdictions used words other than ‘declare’. Apparently they were concerned about unintended legal implications of declaring an emergency. (Even so, in general usage, all Climate Emergency resolutions tend to be reported as being ‘declarations’ regardless of the word actually used.)

Climate Emergency declarations in Australia

The first five CED councils in Australia either recognised, endorsed, or acknowledged the Climate Emergency. From 2020 onwards the vast majority used ‘declare’ in their CED motions but overall only half have done so. Incidentally, in Europe Climate and Ecological Emergency or Climate and Biodiversity Emergency declarations are quite common, but in Australia there have only been two of each, and one more that ‘recognised’ the Climate and Biodiversity Emergency.

Chart showing words used in Climate Emergency Declarations in Australia

Declarations in other countries

The first CED in the UK by Bristol City Council in November 2018 adopted a different solution. They declared a ‘climate emergency’, using quotation marks to signal that this was a new concept rather than necessarily having any sort of legal implications. During 2019 many other UK local councils copied that precedent, but these days new UK declarations usually don’t.

A few of the declarations in Canada and USA have used ‘recognise’ or similar, but the majority have simply used ‘declare’, as do all the CEDs in New Zealand and Japan.

Over the last couple of years there have been occasional cases of declarations in Australia and elsewhere that explicitly state that they should not be interpreted as having any particular legal implications. This seems like a practical way of circumventing debate on whether or not there are any legal issues to complicate declaring a Climate Emergency. For example, the Greater Wellington Council CED motion includes a clause saying, “Notes that the Climate Emergency declaration is made without explicit statutory authority or support.”

So…do CEDs have legal implications?

To be honest, I don’t think they do, but I’m not a lawyer. The campaign to declare a Climate Emergency is a bottom-up grassroots campaign. If CEDs were a top-down initiative there would be legislation saying what a CED is and setting regulations about them, but it isn’t. It came as a complete surprise to CED campaigners that the word ‘declare’ was considered a stumbling block considering that the entire CED concept was new and had no official standing.

However, some countries have legislation concerning other types of emergency declarations and the sorts of temporary powers and obligations that apply during those emergencies. It is understandable therefore that council legal teams wanted to take a cautious approach, at least at first.

All except two of the 20 most recent CEDs in Australia have used ‘declare’, and UK councils no longer bother using quotation marks. Has it now been established that such caution regarding potential legal implications is unnecessary? If you can answer this, please let us know!

In the meantime, I’m not sure if Knox City Council was concerned about legal implications when they used ‘recognise’ in their first CED, or perhaps they were influenced by the precedents set by some other Australian CEDs. Either way, it’s great to see them explicitly declare a Climate Emergency now. It really does sound much stronger.

Global map showing 2,248 Climate Emergency Declaration places - July 2022

Are Climate Emergency Declarations still happening?

Yes! New declarations might not be receiving a lot of media coverage these days but there are now 2,248 jurisdictions that have passed a Climate Emergency Declaration (CED). In just the last fortnight there have been two more CEDs in the UK (North Yorkshire County Council and Swindon Borough Council) and one more in Japan (Hiroshima City).

Certainly the rate of new declarations has slowed since the start of the pandemic, but even the CEDs that are happening now seem to get less media coverage than during the 2019 peak. The ground-breaking declaration by the first Australian state, South Australia on 31 May 2022, received little media coverage, and the April declaration by Nillumbik Shire Council in Victoria received none.

Chart showing the 2019 peak in rate of new Climate Emergency Declarations

In April 2020 there was just one new CED in the US and one in Italy. That suggests that the pandemic that was escalating at the time was a factor slowing the rate of new declarations. But it wasn’t the only factor. The dark purple bars in the chart above show the UK CEDs, a massive 506 before April 2020. Of those, 265 were mid-tier councils in England, of which there are only 333 in total. By 2020 there weren’t enough non-CED mid-tier councils left for such a high rate of new CEDs to be possible. Even so, their numbers did continue to rise. Currently 278 (83.5%) mid-tier councils of varying political persuasions have passed declarations.

Graph showing political control at CED mid-tier councils in the UK

The earliest Climate Emergency Declarations in the UK were by Labour-controlled councils. The first by a Conservative-controlled council was by Devon County Council in February 2019, but thereafter the growth trajectory has been similar across all types of UK councils. For context, at 2020 approximately 41% of the mid-tier councils where any particular party had control were under Conservative control, 33% were Labour-controlled, 14% Liberal Democrat, and Independents were in control at 12%.

National and sub-national CEDs

The following chart suggests national and subnational governments were focusing on the pandemic rather than climate during much of 2020.

Graph showing the increase in national and subnational Climate Emergency Declarations

By February 2020 there were 11 national CEDs, and 32 CEDs by subnational governments such as states, provinces, cantons, or prefectures. The Republic of Ireland was the first national declaration in May 2019, followed by Canada, Argentina, Spain, Austria, France, Malta, Bangladesh, Italy, Andorra, and the Maldives. The graph then flat-lined during mid 2020 before starting a slower but steady rise, reaching 18 nations with the declarations by South Korea, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, Fiji and, most recently, Peru and Vanuatu this year.

The subnational graph also went flat for much of 2020 before resuming a steady but slower rise. To date there have been 41 CEDs passed by subnational governments, including the devolved governments of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Others include Gibraltar, the Australian Capital Territory, Quebec, 7 cantons in Switzerland, 7 regions of Italy, 6 prefectures in Japan, and the state governments of Hawaii and South Australia.

Is language also a factor?

Language is a third possible explanation for the slower rate of new CEDs over the last couple of years, or more precisely, the rate of new CEDs reported in cedamia’s global list and global maps of CED places.

Graph showing the rise in numbers of Climate Emergency Declarations in selected countries

For clarity, the above graph omits data for the UK, Quebec, and South Korea due to their relatively high numbers of declarations, and also the countries where only a few CEDs have occurred. Countries with a steady increase in CED numbers over the last couple of years are shown with thick lines: Australia, Canada (apart from Quebec), the US, and Japan. All except Japan are English-speaking countries, and language is not an issue for Japan because a colleague there reliably sends me notifications when new CEDs occur.

The only English-speaking countries with flat lines are New Zealand and Ireland. In both cases, the majority of council areas had already passed a CED prior to the pandemic, so fairly flat lines since are inevitable. But have there really been no new declarations in Italy, Germany, Spain, France, Switzerland, and Austria over the last couple of years despite significant activity earlier? Or is it that new declarations in those countries have not appeared in the English-language media articles I see via Google Alerts?

With the language issue in mind, Cedamia and ICLEI recently signed a memorandum whereby ICLEI will eventually become a multilingual reporting destination for new CEDs and we’ll share responsibility for collecting and displaying a shared set of data.

In the meantime, if you happen to know of any comprehensive lists of Climate Emergency Declaration places in countries with other languages, please get in touch!


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Philip Sutton and his model Climate Emergency legislation

Lest we forget Philip Sutton’s Climate Emergency legacy: how we restore a safe climate

This article by Bryony Edwards and Adrian Whitehead originally appeared in the Vote Planet blog and is reposted here with permission.

Since his sudden death on 12 June, much has been written about Philip Sutton, the visionary thinker behind the “climate emergency declaration”. Philip’s prolific lifetime of work is captured in this Guardian obituary

Since the 1970s, Philip has published two seminal climate books, authored environmental legislation still in use, drafted legislation that the climate movement should be lobbying governments on, and shaped the climate conversation globally. 

Philip was not a climate scientist but he grilled climate scientists to reveal the assumptions and realities behind often opaque scientific statements.

Philip worked long hours every single day at the theoretical “coalface” of climate thinking. Below the grassroots, down the end of a long tunnel – far from light, air, recognition, financial support. The work’s urgency was his drive; the urgency for a future for his kids and all vulnerable populations and ecosystems. 

Anyone that recognised Philip’s brilliance is wondering how we carry on his legacy. Philip’s consolidated climate thinking on Climate Rescue is perfectly summarised in this November 2021 interview. Philip’s immediate thinking preceding his death is summarised in this email to the Victorian Climate Action Network. A group that was to work on his current Climate Rescue project is continuing that work. 

Philip was always decades ahead of the “mainstream” climate movement, which has recognised and used some of his thinking but not the more difficult aspects. It is inevitable that we will have to engage with the these more difficult aspects if we decide to have a future.

This blogpost aims to capture the aspects of Philip’s core thinking that has not been widely understood or embraced by climate movements. It is a call for climate movements to understand and rally around Philip’s thinking in the quest to restore a safe climate. 

The grief that many are feeling to lose this brilliant, big-hearted, deep thinker must be harnessed to implement what is likely the only path that will save us. A pathway that Philip envisaged over a decade ago.

How we restore a safe climate

Twenty years ago, when NGOs such as Greenpeace were campaigning on cuts of 60% emissions, Philip and a couple of others (Adrian Whitehead and Matt Wright) were looking at zero emissions. Not net-zero emissions still talked about today but true zero or a near zero emissions society achieved at emergency speed. 

Philip’s thinking can be summarised by what we need to achieve for a viable future. The fundamentals have not altered in more than a decade and are increasingly validated by IPCC and other bodies as they catch up:

  1. Zero emissions, all sectors, achieved at emergency speed (less than 10 years).
  2. Massive drawdown of excess greenhouse gases to restore safe concentrations (100 years or so based on land use needs).
  3. “Cool the planet” (at emergency speed). We’ve already set off numerous feedback loops that make the first two actions alone not enough to save us.

The key here is that the only safe position is to reverse global warming and restore a safe climate (i.e. safe greenhouse gas concentrations and whatever else it takes). Without the combined three actions (zero, drawdown, cooling), we risk tipping into runaway climate change or Hothouse Earth, from which there is no conceivable return. The idea that we can stop warming at an arbitrary point and stay there is conjecture. Targets such as “zero by 2050” are political, not scientific; and suicidal based any analysis of the science. 

And these three actions are required to occur at emergency speed. Philip was at pains to emphasise that acting at emergency speed requires:

  • a declaration of the climate and ecological emergency so that firstly, everyone knows it’s an emergency and secondly, government has the authority to act, followed by
  • mobilisation – acting on the emergency at emergency speed. 

Elements of Philip’s thinking that got “mainstream” legs include

  • The Climate Emergency Declaration. This got legs in 2016, when Philip’s council, Darebin (Vic) passed a motion recognising that we are in a climate emergency and all levels of government have responsibility to act. As some would be aware, this quickly spread to a handful of other Australian councils. Cedamia has tracked the global spread of the declarations since that point. Some positive change across participating governments resulted and has generalised to non-declared governments, but mobilisation, an intent of the campaign, was not adopted. The count is now over 2000 governments with national and state governments included. South Australia is a recent addition.

Philip’s (and David Spratt’s) thinking is succinctly captured in this Breakthrough paper, Climate Emergency Explored.

Elements of Philip’s thinking that have been adopted by the leading edge of the climate movement are:

  • The idea of less than 10 years to zero emissions (ie not “net zero”) typified by the work of Beyond Zero Emissions and their Zero Carbon Australia plans, or Extinction Rebellion’s call for zero emission in five years.
  • Drawdown to reduce greenhouse gas concentrations to pre-industrial levels. Two relevant books include Tim Flannery’s 2015 Atmosphere of Hope and Drawdown (2017) by Paul Hawken.

Two of Philip’s central ideas have have not gained traction with the leading edge or broader climate movement but are absolutely central to avoiding global climate catastrophe and restoring a safe climate are:

  • The imperative combination of declaration PLUS mobilisation. Mobilisation (for emergency speed) is the goal; a declaration is the enabler. Mobilisation was put in the too-hard basket.
  • Cooling the planet. Recognising that zero emissions, even if achieved today, is extremely unlikely to spare us from global climate catastrophe and that active solar radiation management would be needed. 

Mobilisation and Cooling the planet are discussed in more detail in sections below.

Emergency declaration + mobilisation only work hand in hand

Declaration and mobilisation go hand in hand – with mobilisation the ultimate goal and declarations just a mechanism for mobilisation. For example: 

  • The COVID lockdowns and over 100 billion dollars made available (regardless of how well it was implemented) could not have happened without the initial state and federal declarations of the COVID emergency (Federally this was the COVID-19 Emergency Response Act 2020, states had their own acts).
  • UK war mobilisation against Germany couldn’t have occurred without the UK intuitively declaring war. Naturally, the war could not have been won without ensuing mobilisation. Almost all efforts became focused on surviving and winning the war. For example, car manufacturers switched to making tanks, children from towns were moved to the country.
  • Government and community responses during a bushfire emergency would not exist without first letting everyone know about the emergency (the declaration) and enabling emergency services to act quickly without red tape (mobilisation). 

Philip outlined what a national Climate Emergency and Mobilisation Act would look like. It involved a lot of government restructuring and goal setting to prioritise the work needed to reverse global warming.

Philip emphasised the appropriate steps for target setting:

  1. Ask what we want to save (eg, Pacific Islands? Bangladesh? Coastal cities? The Great Barrier Reef). 
  2. Backcast to ascertain what action is required to save what we want to save. 
  3. Set targets based on the speed required to achieve the outcome.

Over the decades of inaction, the required action has become more urgent and extreme. There is no carbon/greenhouse gas budget. 

Policy makers and mainstream Environmental NGOs (ENGOs) prefer to set targets based on what they think is “realistic” with a few tweaks to business as usual. This is suicidal when winning slowly means losing.

In 2013 Philip, working with a team that included Adrian Whitehead and Tiffany Harris,  developed a plan for what mobilisation could look like at the local government level. This work later became core material that underpins the work of CACE (Council and community Action in the Climate Emergency).

Mobilisation is hard; local governments simply do not have the budget to achieve all that needs to be  done. State governments and federal governments with their big economic and regulatory levers are the levels of government that could truly implement an emergency response, but state and federal governments in 2016 weren’t anywhere near declaring a climate emergency let alone mobilising. That’s why the Climate Emergency Declaration campaign was focused on local government. As far back as 2008 in this ABC interview with Robyn Williams and in his seminal 2008 book with David Spratt, Climate Code Red, Philip talked about going down to any level of governance – down to the household or individual if required, for traction on mobilisation. 

Declaration + mobilisation is inconvenient. It cannot exist in a neoliberal frame, which prioritises infinite growth and the welfare of corporations. Mobilisation is a green-new deal, hard targets and working out what we do to meet those targets. It also means regulation to stop bad things, not just economic signals to slowly phase them out. Central governments need to wrest back power from decades of neoliberalism to make mobilisation happen.

On the idea of “economic signals”, Philip recently did a back-of-the-envelope calculation for a carbon tax that would get us to zero in under ten years. He estimated the tax would need to be around $300 a tonne – up a bit from the “ambitious” $50 we might hear. As Philip then said, “a $300 carbon tax would lead to chaos”. While a tax might have a role in subsets of activity, we need central planning to guide this kind of massive infrastructure work.

Cooling the planet

Point three of the pathway to restoring a safe climate, cooling the plant, is perhaps the most misunderstood. 

Geoengineering as a whole is frowned upon by many people keen on saving the planet primarily because it is seen as an “out” for fossil fuels – that they might use it as a reason to keep emitting. Needless to say, we need to campaign for both “negative emissions” and cooling the planet at emergency speed.

The term geoengineering represents a broad range of options to cool the planet but Philip usually only referred to solar radiation management (increased albedo to reflect the sun) for cooling the planet, as in general solar radiation management represents a much lower risk option to create a global cooling than some of the options more broadly defined under the term geoengineering (eg BECCs).

Solar radiation management includes relatively low-tech options such as painting roofs white or highly reflective roads, to more complex options as reflecting sunlight back out into space by enhancing cloud formation, or maintain (reflective) levels of sulphur dioxide in our atmosphere as we progressively shut down coal power plants.

To reject the imperative of solar radiation management or alternatives outright is to not understand the inconvenient reality that at “equilibrium”, we have already reached around 2.5C of warming and built in 25 metres of sea level rise; most of this warming has not yet manifested in average surface temperatures due to:

  • The thermal mass of the ocean that has absorbed the vast majority of warming; there is about a 30-year lag to this warming manifesting as surface temperature.
  • Global dimming. We are currently “geoengineering” around 1C of cooling via global dimming or what would be solar radiation management if we were doing it intentionally. Sulphates from burning coal and other fossil fuels increase albedo. As we stop burning fossil fuels we will quickly need to maintain current rates of albedo if we want to avoid climate catastrophe. The IPCC has started to incorporate this reality into their modelling.

To reject the imperative of solar radiation management is to condemn millions of people to drowning land masses and all the other horrors that 2.5C+ of global warming can produce.

As such, zero emissions alone, if achieved today, would very likely not save us. Zero emissions alone is a narrative hangover from decades ago. It persists in climate circles. Zero emissions alone ignores the numerous feedback loops we have tripped that are speeding up warming, the 1C of cooling we are currently engineering, and the global lag in realised surface temperature.

If we care enough about people, populations, ecosystems, the web of life, a future for ourselves and our kids, we will take radical action to cool the planet. Any action should aim to minimise negative side effects; however, we’ve left it too long to imagine we come out of this unscathed. We need to go with the lesser of many evils.

Climate campaigns coming together?

Can the climate movement get behind Philip’s framework to restore a safe climate?

In a call for them to lead, the role of E-NGOs has to be highlighted here. There is a strong case that the large E-NGOs (yes, all of them) have held back progress as they clung to the idea that telling the truth wasn’t good business and campaigning for incremental action was the best way to get outcomes. 

E-NGOs vehemently fought “emergency”, the E-word, until grassroots campaigns – starting in Darebin Vic, got the ball rolling with the initial climate emergency declaration in 2016. 

There were tears, including Philip’s, among campaigners that had lobbied Darebin council when that first climate emergency motion passed in December 2016. (Special mention here to other Darebin campaigners, such as Adrian Whitehead for campaigning the council on a climate emergency declaration, Jane Moreton and her booklet that went global Don’t Mention the Emergency?, and Margaret Hender and Mik Aidt for their work on the Climate Emergency Declaration platform.) 

When the large ENGOs finally noticed the emergency campaign had gone global, by about 2019, after it spread like wildfire through the UK councils, they raced to catch up to the bandwagon. Once they’d wrested the reins from grassroots campaigners, the large E-NGOs steered the wagon away from the trackless unknown of what a climate emergency declaration and mobilisation entails back onto the sealed road of feelgood rhetoric and incremental change. Targets were watered down, the idea of mobilisation vanished and the declaration plus a few council actions was the outcome. 

Councils that had declared were looking at each other for guidance on how to mobilise. Some of them had a bit of a go and CACE provided a framework for that mobilisation. While there was resulting innovation that has influenced higher levels of government, none wanted to go too far out on a limb. This Breakthrough paper is a survey of what declared Australian councils had progressed around February 2020 with regard to climate emergency imperatives, and there is a 2022 Australian survey by Cedamia.

Since 2019, the rise of Extinction Rebellion, Greta Thunberg and Friday’s for Future (School Strikes) mean that grassroots are again visibly leading. However, ENGOs have become intertwined with School Strikes around the world.

 XR’s demands are:

  • Zero emissions by 2025 
  • Tell the Truth
  • Citizens’ Assemblies to define appropriate action. 

Fridays for Future’s (School strikes) demands are 

  • Keep the global temperature rise below 1.5°C compared to pre-industrial levels. 
  • Ensure climate justice and equity.
  • Listen to the best united science currently available. 

The Climate Emergency framework, as set out by Philip, goes a step further to outline non-negotiable actions required for a safe climate (zero, drawdown, cooling, all at emergency speed) and the essential mechanisms (declaration plus mobilisation) to achieve this.

Last word

Most governments will take the easiest path available so campaigners need to be laser sharp and unanimous in their messaging if they want a meaningful outcome. 

Rather than campaigning for what we think governments will tolerate we need to campaign for what actually needs to be done, ie we need  to campaign to reverse global warming and restore a safe climate. 

Philip was optimistic that saving the planet was still feasible if we adhered to emergency speed to negative emissions (zero plus drawdown) and cooling the planet, underpinned by declaration plus mobilisation. 

Can we rally around Philip’s core thinking to save ourselves?


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SA Parliament House, with Susan Close MP holding 10,000+ petition signatures

South Australia declared a Climate Emergency


On 31 May 2022, South Australia became the first Australian state to declare a Climate Emergency, although the Australian Capital Territory did set a precedent for a sub-national region to do so back in 2019. The SA declaration was passed by both Houses of Parliament. The Liberal opposition proposed amendments, which were rejected, with the original motion then passing unanimously in the Lower House. The Liberal opposition voted against the motion in the Upper House but it passed with Labor and cross bench support.

The motion stated:

That this house —
(a) notes the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report confirms that greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, and current plans to address climate change are not ambitious enough to limit warming to 1.5° Celsius above pre-industrial level — a threshold scientists believe is necessary to avoid more catastrophic impacts;

(b) notes that around the world, climate change impacts are already causing loss of life and destroying vital ecosystems;

(c) declares that we are facing a climate emergency; and

(d) commits to restoring a safe climate by transforming the economy to zero net emissions.

Background

In September 2019, Mark Parnell MLC (Greens) moved a Climate Emergency Declaration (CED) motion in the Upper House. At that time, the ACT had already done so in May 2019, and around 45 local councils around Australia had too. The SA upper house CED motion passed with support from Labor and most of the cross bench, but was opposed by the Liberals. It was not debated in the Lower House at that time.

Soon after new legislation was passed in SA such that formal on-paper citizen petitions with over 10,000 signatures would be ‘taken seriously’ due to the effort require to achieve that – would be tabled in parliament, entered in Hansard, and be guaranteed a ministerial response (either in support of or rejecting the petition). Accordingly 3 ‘ordinary citizens’ started such a petition, and a wide range of grassroots helpers (individuals and members of climate groups) put many hours into collecting signatures. You can see the petition text here.

Helpers could download the petition sheet online and print it themselves, or collect printed sheets from a centrally located petition box at the Conservation SA premises. Signed sheets were returned either through a slot in the petition box or sent to a PO Box set up specifically for that purpose.

By Jan 2020 the team had already collected around 6,000 signatures, so we sounded out Labor MP Susan Close (opposition party at the time) about tabling the petition when we reached 10,000 signatures. She jumped at the chance to do that and indicated willingness to also propose a CED motion alongside tabling it. But then Covid struck and made signature collection really hard, so it ended up taking until mid-2021 to reach 10,000 signatures.

In August 2021, Susan Close tabled our petition and proposed a CED motion, with a large show of support from people on parliament house steps on the day she did that. Her motion was eventually allowed to be put on the debate agenda, but ultimately there was not sufficient time for it to be debated before the state election.

The 2022 state election saw Labor back in power, so the CED motion was put on the agenda again as a first order of business. In speaking to the motion Susan Close, now Deputy Premier, positioned the motion as being in response to clear community demand for urgent climate action. She also announced two initial climate policies for putting words into action: a green hydrogen project and removal of an EV tax.

You can see a global list of jurisdictions that have declared a Climate Emergency here, or click on the pins in this map.


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Guterres calls on all country leaders to declare a Climate Emergency

Every country should declare a state of climate emergency until the world has reached net zero carbon emissions, the UN secretary general, António Guterres, told a virtual summit of world leaders on Saturday.

View the longer 2-minute clip above to hear what else he said.

He mentions that 38 countries have already declared a Climate Emergency. The cedamia global database of CED jurisdictions only shows 14 countries plus the EU, but if you count the 28 countries in the EU separately that would make 38 (noting that some of those 28 countries have also declared a Climate Emergency separately).


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Four years of Climate Emergency Declarations

Today, on the fourth anniversary of the first Climate Emergency Declaration, almost one billion people, over 12% of the global population, live in an area that has adopted a Climate Emergency resolution.

1. Global overview
2. Are Climate Emergency Declarations ‘symbolic’?
3. Are there legal implications?
4. Partisan influence

 

1. Global overview

On 5 December 2016, Darebin City Council in Victoria, Australia, became the first jurisdiction anywhere in the world to declare a Climate Emergency. Four years later the global count sits at 1,854 jurisdictions in 33 countries. The vast majority (1,807) of the declarations have been by local government bodies such as municipal councils, but 32 were adopted by subnational regional or state governments, 14 by national governments, and one by the European Union (November 2019).


* Note: The statistics in this article are accurate to the best of our knowledge at the time of writing, but we rely heavily on English language media for news of new declarations and declarations in other language regions are probably under-reported. Please email info@cedamia.org if you know of declarations we have missed in the list at https://www.cedamia.org/global.

Ireland was the first country to declare a Climate Emergency at the national level in May 2019, followed by Canada, Argentina, Spain, Austria, France, Malta, Bangladesh, and Italy, then in early 2020 by Andorra and Maldives, and in late 2020 by South Korea and Japan. Of those, Argentina, Malta, Bangladesh, Andorra, Maldives only have their national-level and no subnational declarations (as far as we know).

Some (7) of the 28 countries with subnational declarations only have one, but over 50% of the population lives in jurisdictions with a Climate Emergency Declaration in South Korea, the UK, New Zealand, Ireland, and Canada. With the new national declaration approved in New Zealand on 2 December 2020, four of those countries also have national declarations. (The UK did pass an opposition day declaration in May 2019, but that hasn’t yet been passed by a full sitting of parliament.)

Before the first Climate Emergency Declaration four years ago there was almost no awareness of the possibility of making such a declaration, and only a rather small group of campaigners in Australia trying to achieve them. The first few declarations in Australia led to five in the US between July 2017 and September 2018. As part of a separate GMob campaign, the first 20 declarations in Quebec occurred in September 2018.

But everything changed with the IPCC 1.5 Degree Special Report in October 2018. That triggered the first UK declaration by Bristol City Council on 13 November 2018, and that in turn sparked off a very rapid proliferation of new declarations in 2019, initially within UK and then throughout Europe. During 2020 the most active region has been Asia, with South Korea suddenly overtaking most other countries in terms of the number of jurisdictions making declarations when all except two local councils adopted a Climate Emergency Declaration on 5 June 2020. In Japan 44 jurisdictions, including Tokyo just yesterday, have declared a Climate Emergency, and Taiwan had its first two local government declarations in November 2020.

While some national declarations have occurred before any local subnational ones, the sheer number of Climate Emergency Declarations at the subnational level globally appears to have been a significant enabler, with all of the national declarations occurring either during or after the mid-2019 very steep rise in the number of citizens represented by subnational declarations. The Climate and Environmental Emergency Declaration recently passed by the Philippines Lower House (but still requiring further ratification) specifically cited the global proliferation of declarations in their declaration, as did the New Zealand declaration on Wednesday.

Many countries do not yet have any known climate emergency declarations, and currently the greatest concentration is in Europe, but even so there are at least some declarations scattered across much of the globe. Details of each declaration can be seen by clicking the markers on cedamia’s global map at https://www.cedamia.org/global-ced-maps.

Jurisdictions range from the smallest town and parish councils up to major cities like London, New York, Paris, Rome, Sydney, and Tokyo. The 32 regional/state governments include Scotland, Wales, Gibraltar, Quebec, and Northern Ireland. Five of Spain’s 17 regions have declared a Climate Emergency, as have seven regions in Italy, six cantons in Switzerland, and the Australian Capital Territory.

In Australia there have been 97 declarations so far, including by five of our seven capital cities: Adelaide, Darwin, Hobart, Melbourne, and Sydney.

 

2. Are Climate Emergency Declarations ‘symbolic’?

An astonishing number of news articles reporting new Climate Emergency Declarations refer to them as being ‘symbolic’.
According to a recent news article on the New Zealand declaration, ‘The declaration comes without any newly assigned statutory powers or money, making it purely symbolic.’ But Jacinda Adhern clearly indicated the declaration was a commitment to action, including a new initiative requiring public agencies to be carbon neutral by 2025.

It takes time to develop the most effective course of action and determine the best way of allocating budget, but climate is already an emergency. During an emergency it makes no sense to remain silent about it and to delay emergency declarations until all action plans are in place. That public signal is vital, along with the public commitment to respond to the emergency. This is particularly so when public cooperation and voluntary effort are essential in order to reduce loss of life.

Many local council declarations include a commitment to developing a climate emergency action plan within a specified timeframe, some set carbon neutral target dates, some set a principle of considering the climate impact of all future council decisions, and all indicate at least some sort of commitment to responding to the emergency.

However, when critics say Climate Emergency Declarations are symbolic they tend to imply that they are empty words. But even if that were true the tsunami of new declarations from all levels of government over the last two years has firmly established ‘declaring a climate emergency’ as a widely known possibility rather than a fringe idea. Since mid-2019 the Guardian style guide has been encouraging use of ‘climate emergency’ rather than weaker terms, and ‘climate emergency’ was selected as the Oxford English Dictionary word of the year in 2019. No declarations could occur until the idea of doing so was conceived, and very few occurred until the concept built its own momentum.

Certainly the campaigners urging their respective jurisdictions to declare a Climate Emergency are not asking for an empty symbolic gesture. They are expecting urgent effective action at a scale and speed commensurate with the existential threat we face, and are quick to criticise any jurisdiction that fails to take as much action as they expect.

With over 1800 declarations it is easy to imagine significant variation in terms of follow-up actions, including some cases where the declarations might ultimately prove to be empty words, but a search of council websites reveals plenty of evidence that many local governments are making serious attempts to match their actions to the words.

A number have set new carbon neutrality targets for their own operations and for their entire communities. The cedamia data sheet does not yet have comprehensive data on targets for all jurisdictions, but the charts below show the data collected so far concerning community-wide targets.

Targets are known for 247 UK councils. Of those, 201 areas with a combined population of 35 million people have a 2030 or earlier carbon neutrality target date set by their council for their entire community.

The national trajectory adopted by the UK is to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. If the above 35 million people simply adhere to the national target, by 2050 their cumulative GHG emissions would be close to 4 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent. If instead they manage to achieve the 2030 target adopted by their local council, they will reduce that amount by around 2.5 billion tonnes.

The cedamia data sheet does not yet have comprehensive data on climate emergency action plans, but it includes links to 178 action plans from UK local councils that have declared a Climate Emergency and 29 from Australian councils.

The level of ambition varies, but typical actions include measuring current levels of GHG emissions and setting targets for reducing the emissions from council’s own operations and also those of the wider community, mapping out a costed action program to address emissions from buildings, transport, consumption, waste, and land use, and hiring extra staff or consulting experts to plan the most effective measures. Community engagement is a key feature in many cases, with the community either helping to draw up the action plans or being invited to give feedback on draft plans.

3. Are there legal implications?

This question has vexed many local governments and possibly prevented some from declaring a Climate Emergency. There are legal implications associated with declaring more familiar natural disaster or health emergencies, with associated ’emergency’ powers to allocate budget, mobilise resources to take specific counter-measures, and impose temporary restrictions on usual behaviour for the duration of the emergency.

Some Councillors have therefore wondered if declaring a Climate Emergency would expose them to legal obligations to take particular actions, and that uncertainty has given rise to various strategies. Some councils have chosen to ‘recognise’ or ‘acknowledge’ the Climate Emergency in order to avoid using the ‘declaration’ word. Some have a declared a climate crisis to avoid using the ’emergency’ word. Others have resorted to quotation marks and have declared a ‘Climate Emergency’ to signal that this is a neologism and not subject to legislation associated with other types of emergency declarations.

However, declaring a Climate Emergency began as a grassroots bottom-up initiative. Declarations and associated actions are evolving organically with no centralised top-down control, which is how it should be. As far as we know there is not (yet) any legislation defining what such a declaration means or stipulating anything a jurisdiction is obliged or permitted to do if they declare a Climate Emergency.

It has been the jurisdictions that have already declared a Climate Emergency that have been shaping what such a declaration is coming to mean in practice. Every local council that follows through with urgency and high ambition inspires other jurisdictions to equal or greater action, while ’empty words’ declarations are counter-productive and could potentially derail an otherwise promising avenue for urgent widespread change. If any jurisdictions are already operating in full-scale emergency mode it is not yet obvious from news articles, but anything less will mean more deaths and more ecosystem destruction.

 

4. Partisan influence

The first Climate Emergency Declarations in Australia and in the UK were proposed by Greens Councillors, but no council in either country had a Greens majority at the time of their declarations, and some had no Greens Councillors.

The vast majority of Councillors in the UK are affiliated with a particular political party so the UK provides the clearest example of cross-party support. Climate Emergency motions have been proposed by Councillors of all political stripes, and motions passing unanimously is not unusual.

In Australia many councils are either officially non-partisan or have many independents so trends are less clear. Anecdotal evidence suggest political bias is a factor influencing whether or not a declaration is proposed or approved, but at least one Liberal-dominated council has declared a Climate Emergency.

Political affiliations are not discernable for Councillors in Canada and New Zealand. In many cases affiliations are not published, and in the cases where they are, many Councillors are either independent or affiliated with local alliances rather than major parties. Patterns are also hard to see in European countries due to the large number of parties represented within councils, generally with no party having majority control.

Some states in the US stipulate that Councillors be non-partisan, including California where 36% of the declarations have occurred. Even so partisan influence is more clearly seen in the US than anywhere else. All 21 of the councils that have publicly partisan Councillors and a Climate Emergency Declaration have a Democrat majority.


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UK CED patchwork

Patchwork quilt of Climate Emergency Declarations in the UK

A small number of local councils in Australia and the US might have started the Climate Emergency Declaration trend, but is was Councillor Carla Denyer who got the ball rolling in the UK when her motion was passed by the Bristol City Council in November 2018. The subsequent spread across all of the UK has been truly astonishing.

One element of the theory of change concerning Climate Emergency Declarations by local councils is that, eventually, a patchwork quilt of council areas pursuing ambitious climate emergency action might cover almost an entire nation. This might lead to a national declaration, but even if not, the compelling vision is that almost the entire nation would be prioritising restoring a safe climate if each local council manages to engage and mobilise their community effectively.

Below is a council area boundary map of England showing the councils that had declared a Climate Emergency as of 20 February 2019. The pins indicate small town and parish councils, and the blocked in coloured areas indicate the city/district/county councils that had declared at that time. The purple area is the Greater London area declaration of December 2018. (View the full-size 2019 map here.) In addition, there had been declarations by the City of Edinburgh in Scotland and by several small towns and one county (Carmarthenshire) in Wales.

Climate Emergency Declarations in England at 20 February 2019

Then, in quick succession in April 2019, Scotland and Wales declared a Climate Emergency for their entire regions, and on 3 February 2020 Northern Ireland followed suit. Unlike those three countries, England does not have a separate devolved parliament, but the patchwork of English councils that have declared now covers much of England as well.

Climate Emergency Declarations in England at 20 Feb 2020

The blocked in pink areas in the map above represent declarations by individual city and district councils. Other coloured blocks represent county and combined authority declarations, but generally many of the councils within those areas have also declared a Climate Emergency independently. In addition, there have been numerous declarations by small town and parish councils but, for ease of viewing, the map only shows pins for those outside of areas where a higher level of local government has declared. (View the full-size 2020 map here.)

England might not have its own declaration, but even so almost 90% of the population live in an area covered by the growing patchwork of declarations.

With statistics like that, the theory of change suggests that the UK should have declared a Climate Emergency for the nation as whole by now.

A significant Opposition Day motion passed by Labour MPs on 1 May 2019 has been widely reported as the UK having ‘declared a Climate Emergency’, but they haven’t. For that to be binding the motion would need to be passed by a regular sitting of the full House of Commons and approved by the House of Lords. Hopefully that will still happen, but it might be tricky to build momentum for that given that ‘everyone’ seems to think the UK has already declared a Climate Emergency.

But either way, the spread of declarations across the UK, at various levels of local government from the tiniest to the very large, has so far been deeper and faster than anywhere else in the world…but the Republic of Ireland and New Zealand have been doing very well too! (Details are at https://www.cedamia.org/global/.)


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