What is a Climate Emergency?
Unless you have been living under a rock, then you might have been aware of the YouthStrike4Climate and Extinction Rebellion protests, along with many other impactful environmental movements that have been happening across the UK of late. For years campaigners and activists have been pushing the government to take radical action on climate change through a variety of methods, but it seems that we have finally reached the climax we were waiting for.
With the help of the IPCC report giving us a terrifying mandate to act as soon as possible before irreversible damage, increased natural disasters, a heightened awareness of the impact of plastics, and Greta, it was time to strike while the iron was hot. Across these varied and important movements, calls for the UK to declare a “climate emergency” have come out as part of a key demand for government to take climate change seriously.
Who declared a Climate Emergency?
So far, over 450 local governments have declared a climate emergency; that represents over 40million people across the globe. However, from a UK-centric point of view, some recent announcements have been highly significant:
28th April, Nicola Sturgeon declared a Climate Emergency on behalf of the SNP in Scotland. She noted that it was a “public promise to act on global warming” and in turn, kick-started the actions that followed...
29th April, the next day Lesley Griffiths declared a Climate Emergency on behalf of Wales noting that she hoped it would “trigger a wave of action at home and internationally, from our own communities, businesses and organisations to parliaments and governments around the world”.
1st May, the Labour party (backed by the Greens) pushed the UK Parliament to declare a Climate Emergency hoping to “set off a wave of action from parliaments and governments around the globe”
Why are we celebrating?
1. The UK managed to reach a decision. Given the shambles that is Brexit, and the inability of the parliament to reach any kind of decision, the fact that they made a climate related decision at the cross party level seems pretty groundbreaking and triumphant.
2. We have worked hard for this. Young people all over the world have shown up in their millions to call for action on climate change. For the 10,000+ students across the UK, and others working to demand this declaration, this is a HUGE win (and we don’t get many wins in the environmental world).
3. They said it not us. Up until now, the UK government have been frustratingly self-congratulatory about their climate efforts, but now they need to put their money where their mouth is. The parliament declared this emergency, so now we can hold them to account.
4. It sets a global precedent. The UK’s global importance is born out of brutal colonialism, slavery and entitlement that is unforgivable and grotesque. But, it has left us with global influence that makes this decision important. If the UK is willing to declare a Climate Emergency, we can expect others to follow.
Why we should still be cautious, and what might we be overlooking?
1. Words not actions. Although this gives us a new angle with which to hold the UK to account. So far, these are empty words unless radical action follows. Our work is therefore not over, and is arguably only just beginning.
2. They are going to lord this over us. If anyone has ever watched Claire Perry counter an environmentalist, you will notice that she loves to brag about the UK’s achievements. Unfortunately this declaration will give her, and others, even more ammunition to tell us off when we “misbehave”.
3. We shouldn’t take power away from the people. In the reporting, discussions and narrative around the declaration of a climate emergency it is important that we don’t forget the true champions of the climate emergency: our young people and climate activists. This pressure came from us, and we are the true trendsetters when it comes to climate emergency, we will need to work hard to ensure the UK parliament doesn’t steal this narrative from us.
So. In the words of Greta “we want you to panic” and hopefully this declaration of climate emergency will do just that. Though it will not stop us being skeptical and it certainly won’t stop us pushing for more ambitious action, this declaration is timely and frankly, WE EARNED IT! So let’s revel in our win, and use it to fuel the fire that needs to be lit under the asses of governments globally and at home.