What do places like Shropshire (United Kingdom), Hawkes Bay (New Zealand), Sydney (Australia), New York (USA), and Krakow (Poland) have in common?
They are just some of the 822 (and counting) cities, councils and jurisdictions worldwide to have declared a climate emergency. With record temperatures gripping Europe, widespread drought in South America, and ever-decreasing ice coverage in Greenland, the effects of climate change are being felt globally. As some nations drag their feet on enacting environmental policies or are slowed down by politics, some cities worldwide are taking matters in their own hands.
One Small Step
By declaring a climate emergency, cities are adopting more powers to help curb the effects of climate change . In New York, the city council has set new carbon reduction targets for its major buildings, Sydney have added climate considerations in any new policy or infrastructure decisions, while Shropshire Council, a rural district in the English Midlands, has committed to being carbon-neutral by 2030. In each case, these local governments have also used their declarations as a means to exert pressure on national decision-makers. There is no single definition of a climate emergency declaration, but many see it as a drive for carbon neutrality and a mandate for further political action.
France has declared #ClimateEmergency. This gained near zero attention..
Action surely matters more than words and so far the words have meant nothing. But how can we hold politicians accountable to this if no one even knows an emergency has been declared?https://t.co/YLEQmIv5zC
— Greta Thunberg (@GretaThunberg) July 3, 2019
Bristol councilor Carla Denyer, who helped her city pass one of the United Kingdom’s first local climate emergency declarations in November 2018 explains: “We are acknowledging we are in an emergency situation. The national government needs to declare an emergency and put resources in place to enable councils to help reduce carbon emissions . It’s the first step to radical action.” Six months after Bristol made its initial declaration, the United Kingdom became the first country to announce a climate emergency and pledged to dedicate more resources towards mitigating climate change.
In many cases, smaller political structures and more power over local policy have enabled cities to make more ambitious goals for themselves than national governments. The town of Chico in California declared a climate emergency after witnessing the most destructive wildfire in state history. Chico has pledged to eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2030 and intends to adopt many of the resolutions outlined in the Green New Deal. Rocked by a heatwave that sent temperatures soaring to 47 degrees, Paris is the latest major city to declare a climate emergency. With major emission reduction projects already in place in the French capital, the city council has expanded its environmental plans by announcing it will open a “climate academy” geared to educating the public about the risks of climate change.
Deal Or No Deal
Despite a vast array of pledges and policy changes, many declarations have been made in a more symbolic way. Pope Francis recently declared a worldwide climate emergency and urged nations to do more to tackle the issue head-on. Meanwhile, the declaration made in Krakow was led by local environmental groups with the support of councilor members and was made in a bid to apply pressure on Poland’s conservative government. Progressive lawmakers believe the government should increase budget allocations towards fighting climate change, while the ruling party advocate private businesses finding their own, for-profit solutions.