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Environment

The UK Just Became the First Country in the World to Declare a 'Climate Emergency'

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The UN’s Global Goals include several environmental targets, including action against climate change, protecting life on land and life below water, and creating cities and communities that are sustainable. Join the movement by taking action here to protect the environment. 

The UK parliament has reportedly become the first in the world to declare an "environment and climate emergency", after MPs passed a motion on Wednesday. 

While it's largely a symbolic move, it does suggest that politicians are listening to the nationwide protests this month, and working to more fully commit to combating the climate crisis. 

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On Wednesday evening, MPs voted in Westminster after Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn called on politicians to do their "historic duty" and back the motion, which he had introduced. 

"We have no time to waste," he told MPs, reported by the Independent. "We are living in a climate crisis that will spiral dangerously out of control unless we take rapid and dramatic action now."

Wales and Scotland both declared a climate emergency earlier this week. 

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), made the declaration in a speech at the SNP conference on Sunday — making Scotland the first nation to do so, according to conservation organisation WWF UK.  

She was closely followed by a similar declaration from Wales’ Environment Minister Lesley Griffiths on Monday, ahead of a meeting with UK and Scottish ministers in Cardiff.  

On Sunday, Sturgeon told delegates she was inspired after meeting a group of young climate activists, who had joined the schools strikes against climate inaction — a movement spearheaded by 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. 

“A few weeks ago, I met some of the young climate change campaigners who’ve gone on strike from school to raise awareness of their cause,” Sturgeon said

“They want governments around the world to declare a climate emergency,” she continued. “They say that’s what the science tells us. And they are right.” 

“So today, as first minister of Scotland, I am declaring that there is a climate emergency,” she said. “And Scotland will live up to our responsibility to tackle it.” 

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There isn’t a strict definition of what it means to declare a climate emergency, with different authorities pledging to take different levels of action — but many of the councils that have declared emergencies in recent months have pledged to be carbon neutral by 2030. 

Referring to the Committee on Climate Change’s new advice on meeting emission targets, due to be published by the end of this week, Sturgeon added: “If that advice says we can go further or go faster, we will do so.” 

In response, Gina Hanrahan, head of policy at WWF Scotland, said Sturgeon was "absolutely right" to declare an emergency. 

"Politicians from across the spectrum need to work together to lead the rapid and large-scale emergency response that we urgently require," Hanrahan said.

According to a statement from the Welsh government, meanwhile, Griffiths’ announcement “draws attention to the magnitude and significance of the latest evidence from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and highlights the recent climate protests across the UK.” 

The IPCC report, published on Oct. 8,  called for “rapid, far-reaching, and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” — and warned that there are just 12 years left to stave off catastrophe. 

Griffiths said: “We hope that the declaration by Welsh government today can help to trigger a wave of action at home and internationally. From our own communities, businesses, and organisations to parliaments and governments around the world.” 

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“Tackling climate change is not an issue which can be left to individuals or to the free market,” she added. “It requires collective action and the government has a central role to making that collective action possible.” 

A Greenpeace poll this week also revealed that two-thirds of people in the UK believe there is a climate emergency, and 76% reportedly said they would vote differently to protect the planet, according to the Guardian

Currently, the UK government’s target is to reduce carbon emissions by 80%, compared to 1990 levels, by 2050, according to the BBC

Scotland, meanwhile, is committed to being carbon neutral by 2050. Wales has committed to achieving a carbon neutral public sector by 2030, and to “coordinating action to help other areas of the economy to make a decisive shift away from fossil fuels.” 

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In November, Bristol and Manchester councils were among the first in the UK to declare a climate emergency, and set targets aiming to be carbon neutral by 2030 and 2038 respectively. 

As of April 27, a total of 507 councils, local governments, and governments have made climate emergency declarations — covering over 43 million citizens — across Australia, the UK, Canada, Switzerland, and the United States, according to the Climate Emergency Declaration website

According to the Council Action in the Climate Emergency (CACE) campaign, being in “emergency mode” means that councils allocate all discretionary funds available to the council towards climate action. 

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That can cover things like educating the community about climate action, 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. 

Most authorities also set targets for themselves as part of the declaration, according to CACE. But, according to the Campaign Against Climate Change, the targets themselves aren’t enough. 

It says on its website: “Campaigners’ continued efforts will be crucial in turning abstract targets into reality."