Susan Close and School children launching Create4Adelaide climate action project

Sub-national governments and the Climate Emergency

Most of the 2,300+ known Climate Emergency Declarations (CEDs) so far have been at the local government level, but 41 have been by sub-national governments. They include UK devolved governments (Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland), state governments (eg. Hawaii, Quebec, and South Australia), six of the 26 cantons in Switzerland, eight of the 20 regional governments in Italy, four of the 17 autonomous regions in Spain, and seven of the 47 prefectures in Japan.

While sub-national governments have much greater capacity to take action on the climate emergency than lower levels of government, I don’t often see reports in English-language media about good things they are doing (although there may be more in other languages). It was refreshing therefore to see the recent reports on the sub-national government actions below.

Climate Emergency action in Wales

Wales was one of the earliest sub-national governments to declare a Climate Emergency, on 29 April 2019. They have adopted a net zero 2030 target for the public sector and a 2050 target (with numerous interim targets) for Wales as a whole.

In February 2023 the Welsh Government scrapped all major road schemes, placing the climate and ecological emergency at the heart of decision making on future infrastructure spending. After a review some of the previously planned road projects are likely to proceed, but priority is being given to rail, bus, walking, and cycling projects.

In March 2023 the Welsh Government announced £60 million to make schools and colleges across Wales more sustainable. This will include money for efficient low-carbon heating and LED lighting.

And an article just this week discusses the Welsh response to the highly topical issue of climate migration. On one hand they are dealing with strategies for relocation of the first Welsh town likely to become uninhabitable due to erosion, extreme storms, and sea level rise, Fairbourne in Gwynedd. But they also are focused on a humanitarian response to the broader global issue of climate displacement. This includes the Wales Strategic Migration Partnership, under which the Welsh Government provides funding to help coordinate refugee schemes and settle refugees in Wales.

Action in South Australia

South Australia has a long history of championing renewable electricity and reached an average of 70% renewable electricity over the last year. The state Upper House passed a Climate Emergency Declaration (CED) back in September 2019, then in May 2022 both houses passed a CED motion. The government also announced plans for a new green hydrogen project in SA at that time.

In February 2023 Deputy Premier Susan Close announced the Create4Adelaide project. This is a novel community outreach scheme involving a survey asking school children to vote on their top priorities for climate action, followed by a climate emergency art competition which will continue in schools throughout the year. The resulting artworks will be part of the 2024 Adelaide Festival of Arts. While none of that directly reduces carbon emissions, it is a clever mechanism for normalising climate emergency thinking and action.

Additionally, in April the SA Government will be holding an Industry Climate Change Conference exploring the path to net zero.

Hawaii state climate emergency action

The state of Hawaii passed a CED motion back in April 2021, so far the only US state to do so, and set a 2045 carbon neutral target date. Hawaii is also one of the very few sub-national governments to support the Fossil Fuel Non-proliferation Treaty so far.

In February 2023 Hawaii created a $100 million climate fund to continue guiding the state’s adaptation and mitigation efforts. The fund will be used to leverage historic federal matching funds for climate action, to provide a year-round source of funding for government and communities, to facilitate better coordination between communities and agencies, and to receive donations to address climate issues from non-government organizations.

Other sub-national climate actions

The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) passed a CED motion back in 2019 and was the first sub-national government to sign the Fossil Fuel Non-proliferation Treaty. The ACT has already reached 100% renewable electricity and has various schemes in place geared to ending fossil gas use as early as possible.

The of Quebec Parliament passed a CED motion in 2019. While they’ve not signed the Fossil Fuel Non-proliferation Treaty, they did ban all new coal, oil, and gas extraction and production in April 2022.

No state CED yet – but some good climate actions

New York state has not yet declared a Climate Emergency (New York City has), but they currently have a bill before the Senate to declare a climate emergency and place a ban on new fossil fuel infrastructure.

Similarly the New South Wales state government has not passed a CED motion but are making good progress on their Renewable Energy Zone (REZ) rollout.

In an even more encouraging move, NSW has announced an $8 million electrification pilot program during which householders in three towns (one each in an urban, regional, and remote community) will have the opportunity to ‘electrify everything’ and stop using fossil gas. The focus is on finding the best ways to upgrade existing homes with all-electric and energy efficient appliances and technologies before expanding to other towns and regions.

To my mind the really very best thing about this electrification pilot scheme is that it amounts to unusually explicit recognition by an Australian state government that ‘getting off gas’ is the way to go.

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