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.


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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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 if you know of declarations we have missed in the list at

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

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

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Latest Climate Emergency Declaration statistics

The number of jurisdictions globally that have declared a Climate Emergency changes almost every day, so bookmark this page if you want to always have the latest figures.

The Google sheet, charts, and map on this page are maintained by cedamia and update automatically whenever we verify and add a new Climate Emergency Declaration (CED) by any level of government, from local councils up to state/territory and national governments. [Scroll to the end of the page for our methodology and criteria.]

We rely heavily on Google Alerts for news of new CEDs in English-language regions, and we are grateful to our helpers in other-language regions for information about CEDs in their regions. Despite our best efforts, we are sure we miss some new CEDs, so please email us if you know of any we have missed. (Please send the council/jurisdiction name, date of the CED, a link to or copy of the declaration text, and a link to a news article if you have one.)

The following spreadsheet can be embedded in any website and updates automatically whenever we update the source data. Or it can be viewed directly in Google Drive via this link.

Click the sidebar icon at top left of the map below to see jurisdictions arranged in chronological order. Countries are arranged in chronological order according to the date of their first CED, and jurisdictions within each country are also in chronological order.

If you would like to embed this map in your own website, click the Share icon at top right of the map, then select ‘Share’ from the sidebar and copy the embed code.

Click on a pin on the map or on a name in the left sidebar to see CED details for that place. In most cases there is a link to a news article and a link to the text of the declaration passed by that jurisdiction.

Alternatively, use the country links on cedamia’s global page to see CED places in that country in chronological order and click the ‘more’ tags to see excerpts of CED resolutions and links to full texts.

Global charts…

New CEDs per month

CEDs by country

Sub-national CEDs

CEDs by region

Criteria and methodology

We add a jurisdiction to the list and map if:
– the resolution has been passed by the top level of the governing body of a jurisdiction, that is, by the Parliament of a country/state/territory/province, or by a meeting of full council or the cabinet of a local council
– the resolution declares/acknowledges/notes the Climate Emergency and resolves to act on it in some way. The words ‘climate emergency’ or the equivalent in the local language must be present, not just ‘climate crisis’ or similar, since our focus is specifically on places that are willing to name and frame climate as an emergency.

By way of verification we like to see a transcript of the resolution, for example the minutes of the meeting, or at least the agenda item and evidence that it was passed without significant amendment. News items alone are unreliable.

For population figures we generally use the figures published in Wikipedia. Where there are multiple tiers of government, such as town/city councils within county council areas, we avoid double-counting by making sure the population in the smaller jurisdiction is not counted again if the larger jurisdiction has already passed or subsequently passes a CED resolution. These adjustments are taken care of in background work sheets and are reflected in the various total and percentage figures, but actual populations of each jurisdiction are shown in the entries for individual jurisdictions.

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Climate Emergency Declaration Evolution

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 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.

Council candidate CED statement of support

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.

Global CED map as of 5 December 2018
Global CED map as of 30 May 2019

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 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

As of May 31, 2019
As of May 31, 2019

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.

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