Local councils across the UK are joining a global movement of declaring a “climate emergency” in an effort to force higher authorities into action against climate change.
As of Feb. 27, at least 38 councils had made the declaration, according to the Climate Emergency Declaration (CED) website.
In the past week alone, Reading, Wiltshire, Mendip, Devon, Somerset West & Taunton, Carmarthenshire County, Somerset, and North Somerset District Council have declared, and more are expected.
“Councils are breaking the silence on the climate emergency, leading central governments and NGOs around the world,” said Bryony Edwards, of the Council Action in the Climate Emergency (CACE) campaign.
We need to talk about #climatechange.— Friends of the Earth 🌍 (@friends_earth) February 26, 2019
Less celebration and more urgency to tackle the growing #ClimateEmergency.
We all know 20c in February just doesn't feel right. #ClimateChangeIsRealhttps://t.co/Zkk6wtJlCc
The movement isn’t limited to the UK either. According to CED, populations covered by governments that have declared a climate emergency now exceed 31 million citizens across five countries — with 17 million of those living in the UK.
Meanwhile, 10 councils in Australia have reportedly passed similar motions, nine in the US, 311 in Canadam and one in Switzerland.
But what does it mean to declare a “climate emergency”?
The CACE campaign says that with “international agreements and national governments failing to stop — let alone reverse — global warming, councils can play a key role in leading the climate emergency response.”
Being in “emergency mode” means that councils allocate all discretionary funds available to the council towards climate action. That includes things such as educating the community, advocating for action from higher level governments, mitigating and building resilience against the impacts of climate change, and funding or undertaking the planning and research needed to implement full state and national emergency mobilisation.
“Councils, even in emergency mode, cannot provide the needed solutions by themselves, hence building pressure on higher levels of government to fund and legislate for emergency action to restore a safe climate are the most critical task a council can undertake,” says CACE on its website.
Most of the councils that have declared have also set targets for themselves, with many now aiming to be carbon neutral by 2030.
But in all of these, according to the Campaign Against Climate Change, the targets themselves aren’t enough.
“Campaigners’ continued efforts will be crucial in turning abstract targets into reality,” it says. “Local action will still face central government policy that is often far from supportive of radical climate action, for example, maintaining a block on new onshore wind energy, and severe budget cuts.”
It also adds that “public support will be vital, and of course national policies will still make a big difference.”
The largest of the local authorities to join the declaration action is reportedly the London Assembly, which has called on the London Mayor Sadiq Khan to declare a climate emergency and to make London carbon neutral by 2030.
Other authorities also include: Brighton and Hove, Bristol, Cambridge, Cornwall, Lambeth, Liverpool, Manchester, Nottingham, Oxford, and Scarborough. You can find more information about whether your council has joined the movement here.
The action was spurred on by a UN report, from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), calling for “rapid, far-reaching, and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.”
In November, Bristol and Manchester councils were among the first to declare emergency and set targets aiming to be carbon neutral by 2030 and 2038 respectively.