If 2018 was the time Blue Planet stole our hearts — and 2017 was all about Brenda from Bristol — then this year will forever be remembered for the renewed determination among fierce young activists to force climate change into becoming a global priority.
The day after 16-year-old protest pioneer Greta Thunberg was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, millions marched in her name around the world on March 15 to criticise political inaction.
But while British Prime Minister Theresa May slammed striking schoolchildren for “wasting lesson time”, a UK port city 200 miles from Westminster has listened to the protesters and taken matters into its own hands.
Plymouth City Council declared a “climate emergency” on Monday, according to the Plymouth Herald, and brought forward its deadline to become carbon neutral by 20 years — from 2050 to 2030.
That basically means emergency plans will now be created to put back to the council within six months. Inevitably that will then be put to the government in a request for funding.
Proud that my city has set this important target - with unanimous cross-party support. Climate change is the defining issue of our generation. And will completely shape the lives of our youth. https://t.co/EKkogSz7C4— Lewis Pugh (@LewisPugh) March 19, 2019
The motion was first put to the Labour-run council by its cabinet member for the environment Sue Dann — a councillor who attended the youth-led climate strikes that took place in Plymouth on Friday too.
"These young people were passionate, well informed and were able to clearly state what they wanted us to do — make a difference, do something," Dann reportedly said at the meeting. “Yes they were chanting, yes they were shouting, yes they were angry, because like us in this chamber they care.”
Fellow Labour councillor Pam Buchan backed the motion that won unanimous cross-party support — while Conservative councillor Nick Kelly agreed that it was a “matter of life or death.”
“Our collective, global inaction against human-made climate change is driving societies to war,” Buchan said. “This is a climate emergency.”
👏✊@plymouthcc just voted UNANIMOUSLY to declare #climateemergency! ’Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can #Changetheworld...’ @ClimateEmergUK let’s get going.... pic.twitter.com/lS3sht4XZl— Plym Energy Com (@plymenergycom) March 18, 2019
Although renewable energy supplied a record 33.4% of British electricity last year, British national investment in green energy fell by 56% in 2017 — a drop worse than any other country on the planet.
However, after the breakdown of several plans to build more nuclear power plants around the country, the government struck an offshore wind deal on March 7 to ensure renewables generated more electricity than fossil fuels for the first ever time by 2030 — making up 70% of all energy.
Global Citizen reported in February that the UK is already home to the world’s largest offshore wind farm. It will be five times the size of Hull once completed, based just off the Yorkshire coast, and will reportedly be able to generate enough electricity to power a million homes.
But at the same time, Britain has pushed forward “unlawful” rules to expand fracking — the greenhouse gas-releasing process that breaks into the earth with high pressure water and chemicals to extract oil and gas.
So with national efforts to combat climate change seemingly dependent on fluctuating political will — does the future of meeting the objectives agreed in the Paris climate agreement to limit global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius lie in the wherewithal of local communities like Plymouth?
“We’re living in a climate emergency, that’s hard to doubt,” Morten Thaysen, climate campaigner at Greenpeace UK, told Global Citizen. “As Plymouth become the latest council to call out the situation for the emergency it is, the government really needs face up to that reality too.”
“It’s easy to despair, but the youth climate strikers are showing the world the bravery and initiative we need to fix the crisis,” Thaysen added. “We’ve already seen the Chancellor respond to them with climate announcements in his Spring Statement.”
“Communities across our country are joining up to call for the action we desperately need. The momentum is inspiring.”
Heroic students all over the country just skipped school to protest climate change! ✊🌍 So we talked to a few of them to ask them why it's so important.— Global Citizen UK (@GlblCtznUK) February 15, 2019
(Wait until the end — it's worth it we promise) 💕 #YouthStrike4Climate#SchoolStrike4Climate#ClimateStrikepic.twitter.com/z5BXpbGk1H
Plymouth’s bold positioning is reminiscent of the reaction of many states in the US after President Donald Trump pulled the country out of the Paris climate agreement in June 2017. While Austin, Texas, is still on track to be carbon neutral by 2050 — its neighbour, Georgetown, became the largest city in the US to run on 100% renewable energy.
Meanwhile, Trump’s pledge to “represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris” saw its mayor, Bill Peduto, rebuke the president, saying: “Pittsburgh stands with the world and will follow Paris agreement.” It’s a trend noted by former Vice President Al Gore, who told us in August 2017 that such a response is the rule — not the exception.
“Donald Trump tried to pull out but the USA is going to stay in without him,” Gore told Global Citizen. “So I’m very excited about it ... What we need is political will, but political will is itself a renewable resource.”