This timeline shows the evolution of Climate Emergency Declarations up to the end of May 2019 and their place in the broader Climate Emergency movement. No doubt there were other influences and influencers, but the following are the key timeline elements as far as we are aware.
Early days of the ‘Climate Emergency’ movement
2003, Lester Brown: advocated “climate action on the scope of the WWII mobilization” in his book Plan B: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble
2006, Al Gore: in the essay The Moment of Truth, and the film An Inconvenient Truth, urged the world to take the threat of climate change no less seriously than the threat of the Nazis during World War II and to face the “global emergency”
June 2008, David Spratt and Philip Sutton: in the book Climate Code Red: The case for emergency action argued that we must “devote as much of the world’s economic capacity as is necessary, as quickly as possible, to this climate emergency. If we do not do enough, and do not do it fast enough, we are likely to create a world in which far fewer species, and a lot less people, will survive… Declaring a climate and sustainability emergency is not just a formal measure or an empty political gesture, but an unambiguous reflection of a government’s and people’s commitment to intense and large-scale action. It identifies the highest priority to which sufficient resources will be applied in order to succeed.”
2008-2016, Australia: in response to Climate Code Red, a network of grassroots climate groups and activists started using the term ‘climate emergency’ and demanding emergency action as the only rational response. However, most large climate advocacy organisations in Australia consistently refused to use the term ‘climate emergency’, claiming it reinforced the wrong values and would ‘scare people off’.
November 2008, UK Public Interest Research Centre: published Climate Safety: In case of emergency…
November 2009, Paul Gilding: published the essay The One Degree War Plan with Jorgen Randers. It said it was time to “declare a global emergency and mobilise all available resources, political will and human ingenuity towards one task”, catastrophic climate change.
2010, Beyond Zero Emissions: published the Zero Carbon Australia Stationary Energy Plan, the first in a series of reports from the group set up by Adrian Whitehead and Matthew Wright to map practical pathways to negative emissions in order to tackle the climate emergency
October 2010, UK Labour Party: proposed an Early Day Motion with 45 signatures, beginning as follows:
That this House recognises that there is a climate emergency and that the catastrophic destabilisation of global climate represents the greatest threat that humanity faces; further recognises that the world is already above the safe level of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration for a stable planet; further recognises the need to reduce this level to 350 particles per million or below; believes it is impossible to predict how close the world is to dangerous tipping points and that action to reduce emissions now is worth considerably more than doing the same later; further believes that immediate action is required to enact a program of emergency measures with substantial emissions reductions in the short term of the order of 10 per cent. by the end of 2010…
2011, Paul Gilding: in The Great Disruption, laid out the reasons to “address the emergency with the commitment of our response to WWII and begin a real transformation to a sustainable economy”
2013, Save the Planet: established as a political party, set up by Adrian Whitehead specifically to tackle the climate emergency
2015, The Climate Mobilisation (TCM): began calling for WWII-scale mobilisation to tackle the climate emergency, at least partly influenced by Climate Code Red. Margaret Klein Salamon published Leading the Public into Emergency Mode, which tackled the widely held view at that time that climate campaigners should not talk about a ‘climate emergency’. Initially TCM were asking for pledges to vote for election candidates based on their climate-related policies.
Thanks to Philip Sutton, Adrian Whitehead, and David Spratt for information about timeline events prior 2016.
From ‘Climate Emergency’ (CE) to ‘Climate Emergency Declaration’ (CED)
1 April 2016, Australia: drawing on mobilisation concepts from Climate Code Red, and treating the February 2016 spike in average global temperature of 1.6C above pre-industrial times as a ‘wake up call’, CE campaigners launched the first CED petition: ‘We call on the Australian Parliament to declare a climate emergency and to mobilise resources to restore a safe climate.’ A handful of other very similar CED petitions targeting the national government quickly followed and were handled as a suite of petitions on the climateemergencydeclaration.org website. By May 2019 over 22,000 signatures had been collected.
5 December 2016, Darebin City Council: became the first local council to declare a Climate Emergency. In the leadup to the 2016 Victorian council elections, local CED campaigners in various council areas asked council candidates to sign this CED statement of support and many of the Darebin, Yarra, and Moreland candidates who ended up being elected signed prior to be being elected. Yarra City Council was the next to pass a CED motion, on 7 February 2017. Moreland City Council also passed a CED motion, but not until 12 September 2018.
2017, Council Action in the Climate Emergency (CACE): set up by Adrian Whitehead and Bryony Edwards to encourage and guide local council CEDs
1 January to 28 February 2017, kayak4earth: Steve Posselt’s 8-week kayak trek down the coast of NSW from Ballina during which he promoted the Climate Emergency Declaration petition and collected signatures to add to those being collected online. He handed over the 18,000 signatures collected at that stage at Parliament House in Canberra.
June 2017, CED petition to all 3 levels of government: in recognition that smaller jurisdictions would be likely to declare a Climate Emergency earlier than a national government, as had indeed already occurred at Darebin and Yarra councils, cedamia launched a 3-level CED petition targeting local councils and state/territory governments in addition to the national government. Cedamia continued to collaborate with CACE on encouraging other Australian local councils to pass CED motions, as well as developing state/territory No More Bad Investments (NMBI) campaigns as a first step of Climate Emergency action.
November 2017, Hoboken City Council: The Climate Mobilisation (TCM) in the US began focusing on climate action by local councils after seeing the Darebin and Yarra declarations. The Hoboken resolution was their first success, although this was actually a ‘climate mobilisation’ resolution rather than a CED motion.
December 2017, Montgomery County Council: the first actual Climate Emergency Declaration to pass in the US.
April 2018, Vincent City Council: the first successful CED motion in Western Australia. This was achieved via outreach by CACE.
August 2018, GMob group, Quebec: began their Déclaration Citoyenne Universelle D’Urgence Climatique campaign which resulted in over 300 places in Quebec, from tiny towns to large cities, signing CEDs by the time we heard about it in early 2019. An English translation of their declaration document is here. This campaign appears to have sprung up without any cross-fertilisation with the other events in this timeline.
8 October 2018, IPCC Special Report: another strong ‘wake up call’, and one which appears to have galvanised the exponential growth in jurisdictions passing CED motions ever since. Prior to publication of the IPCC report, we were aware of only 10 councils in the English-speaking world that had passed CED motions, five in Australia and five in the US. (Although we didn’t know it at the time, councils in Quebec had already begun passing French-language CED motions, and there may have been declarations in other language groups that we don’t know about).
October 2018, Greta Thunberg: became a prominent figure as instigator of School Strikes for Climate, with students in numerous countries joining in and calling for Climate Emergency Declarations and/or other types of emergency action since November 2018
13 November 2018, Bristol City Council: became the first local council in the UK to pass a CED motion. The CED motion proposed by Clr. Carla Denyer explicitly mentions “City Councils around the world are responding by declaring a ‘Climate Emergency’ and committing resources to address this emergency”, and a footnote mentions successful CED motions in the US.
December 2018, UK CED supporters: began calling for councils, and later the UK parliament, to declare a Climate Emergency. This was initially primarily the work of the Greens Party, but was soon picked up and amplified by students and Extinction Rebellion campaigners. Subsequent CED motions at UK councils were proposed by either Greens, Labour, Lib Dem, or Conservative councillors, with even Conservative-dominated councils passing CED motions. By May 2019 over 100 UK councils, ranging from parish councils to borough and county councils and including the London Assembly and Glasgow Council, had passed CED motions,
5 December 2018, global CED map: was set up by cedamia to track the spread of CED councils, with much of the information for the map and the ICEF spreadsheet of CED places sourced from daily Google Alerts. At that time the Google Alerts rarely included any news items that mentioned ‘climate emergency’, but by May 2019 there were 50 or more news articles most days. Some involved generic use of the term, but most of the increase resulted from the exponential rise in news articles about jurisdictions ‘declaring a climate emergency’, or being urged to declare one.
16 January 2019: Vancouver Council: became the first Canadian council outside of Quebec to declare a Climate Emergency, to be followed over the next few months by 20 others, including Ottawa on April 24
20 February 2019, Switzerland: was the next country to join in, with Basel passing a CED motion, followed by six more over subsequent months, including Geneva
29 April 2019, Welsh Parliament: became the first Parliament in the world to declare a Climate Emergency
29 April, Italy: was next when Acri City Council passed a CED motion in response to campaigning by the Fridays for Future group, followed by Milan on May 20
3 May 2019, Gibraltar Parliament: became the second Parliament in the world to declare a Climate Emergency
3 May, Greenpeace Australia: became one of the first major Australian eNGO to start using the ‘climate emergency’ term, and launched a petition calling on the Australian government to declare a Climate Emergency, which in a matter of weeks reached over 25,000 signatures
9 May 2019, Republic of Ireland (Eire): had already passed one CED motion, at Wicklow County Council on April 29, but then in May the Irish Parliament passed the first national CED anywhere in the world
16 May 2019, Australian Capital Territory (ACT): became the first state/territory level government in Australia to declare a Climate Emergency. A week later Tasmania looked set to become the second, with both Greens and Labor proposing CED motions, but ultimately the Greens motion was defeated 13:12 with the Speaker of the House using her casting vote to defeat it.
17 May 2019, The Guardian style guide: had this to say – Instead of “climate change” the preferred terms are “climate emergency, crisis or breakdown” and “global heating” is favoured over “global warming”
19 May 2019, Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation: in the Yukon, Canada, became the first autonomously governed First Nations region to declare a Climate Emergency
20 May 2019, Kate Ahmad: launched a change.org petition asking Prime Minister Scott Morrison to declare a Climate Emergency. It achieved over 75,000 signatures in the first week.
May 2019, Germany, France, Belgium, Spain, New Zealand, and Czechia: in quick succession all had their first successful CED motions, including 11 in Germany, 4 in New Zealand, and the Catalonian Parliament in Spain
By the end of May 2019, we were aware of 594 jurisdictions in 13 countries that had declared a Climate Emergency (but there may have been more), representing an overall population of over 70 million. In Britain roughly 50% of the population lives in areas that have declared, 30% in Canada, and around 15% in New Zealand, Switzerland, and Spain. In Australia 22 jurisdictions representing 8.29% of the population had declared: 5 in Victoria, 3 in WA, 10 in NSW, 3 in SA, and the ACT government.
Many of the declarations prior to the IPCC Special Report appear to have resulted from campaign efforts by groups such as CACE, TCM, and GMob, and more recently School Strikers, Fridays for Future, and Extinction Rebellion have also started calling for declarations. But quite often Councillors or other local authorities have been instigating Climate Emergency Declarations themselves in response to seeing the declarations by other local authorities in their region and globally.
What started out as a ‘wild idea‘ has become ‘a thing’ that has taken on a life of its own, and in the process has well and truly moved the term ‘climate emergency’ into everyday usage.