climate change

Countries that have declared a climate emergency

This morning I was packaging up a large card that I made with my son last week. It’s addressed to the council, thanking them for declaring a climate emergency, and signed by members of our local Extinction Rebellion branch. Luton is now listed among dozens of regional declarations across the country, varying in size from the village of Welcombe (population 187) to the Greater London Authority (over 8 million).

But how many countries have made a climate emergency declaration so far? And what purpose do they serve?

The first country to take the step was Scotland, followed by Wales and then the British parliament last year. Though as it was parliament acting independently, there is no obligation for the government to recognise the declaration and I’m not sure the UK one should be counted.

The most recent declaration is Spain. Their new government called it last week, and intends to deliver a climate plan in their first 100 days. Spain is highly vulnerable to climate change, especially water shortages. Talk of emergency does not sound like hyperbole in a country that could see its Southern territories turn into a desert if current rates of change continue.

Another country that is all too aware of the emergency is Bangladesh, which was the first developing country to make a declaration. They called it a ‘planetary emergency’, passing a motion through parliament unanimously in 2019. In the words of the proposing MP, Saber Hossain Chowdhury: “For the first time in human history, our planet faces a series of converging crises, all on the same timeline – global warming, disasters, extreme weather events, bio-diversity loss, acidification of oceans, water stress, food insecurity, planetary overshoot. A perfect storm is brewing and we must act now before it’s too late.”

In Latin America, Argentina was the first country to make a declaration, led by the Fridays for the Future movement. Youth activists, known as ‘Los Pibes de Greta’, played a key role in forming alliances, building relationships and pressing for change.

There are several others, including the EU Parliament’s declaration, made ahead of the COP in December. Then there are all the thousands of cities and regions that have taken the step. It’s also worth mentioning that the whole idea of a climate emergency declaration comes from Australia. It was Green Party councillors in a district of Melbourne, Darebin City Council, that moved first back in 2016 and inspired the whole phenomenon.

But what’s the point? These declarations are largely symbolic. It’s unusual to find a plan of any kind attached, so at best they serve as a starting point. What’s the value of a climate emergency declaration?

I think there are several:

First, it draws a line in the sand. Whether the measure passes unanimously or not, it serves to end debate over whether action on climate change is necessary. It allows authorities to take responsibility and show that from now on, it’s on the agenda. This shouldn’t be needed in 2020, but it is.

Second, it frames climate change as an emergency. That involves a recognition that action up to this point hasn’t been enough, and that more is needed. It injects urgency into carbon reduction plans. It’s easy to push the risk of climate change into the distance by talking about 2050 or 2100. An emergency declaration acknowledges that it is a clear and present danger, if not for us yet, then for those at the sharp end of climate breakdown.

Third, it gives campaigners something to hold their authorities too. It’s a leverage point. When a government declares an emergency, it’s a statement of intent that they are now accountable to. We can call them back to that, asking what concrete plans they have, or calling them out when their actions are going in the wrong direction.

Finally, every new announcement adds to a wave of declarations that are setting a new standard. The pressure can work in both directions, with national declarations prompting local action, or lots of local actions pressuring government to act. That works for all authorities, not just political ones. If your university, church or workplace is ignoring the climate crisis, there is a multitude of declarations to point too to show that we expect more.

So there’s something to celebrate about every new climate emergency declaration, even if they don’t add up to change in and of themselves. And that’s why I’m off to deliver this card.


  1. As well as supporting calls for climate emergency declarations it is time to engage with governments in whatever way possible … for example…

    Energy in Northern Ireland

    Q1. What lessons can we learn from elsewhere in addressing energy within an overarching climate action framework?
    Q2. What are the key considerations for decarbonising Northern Ireland’s energy sector given existing linkages to other jurisdictions?
    Q3. To what extent should Northern Ireland implement the key energy-related recommendations from the CCC ‘Reducing Emissions in Northern Ireland’ report?
    Q4. Do you agree with the 30-year timeframe? If not, please state your preferred approach and reasons.

    Q1. I have already passed on some lessons from Professor Piekle to Committee on Climate Change (Westminister) ie

    Dear Committee

    A little wake up call from University of Colorado Boulder
    • Fossil fuel burning creates 85% of greenhouse gases
    • One third of fossil fuel burning is for electricity generation
    • 12000 million metric tonnes per year to produce global electricity
    • 1 new nuclear power station every day for 30yrs to reach carbon zero
    • 1500 new wind turbines per day every day for 30yrs to reach carbon zero
    • But what about environmental and economic justice to Global South?
    • 2 billion people currently without reliable electricity supply
    • current renewable cannot generate enough steel, concrete for 2000 turbines
    • sunshine and wind not constant

    There are only 11000 days left until 2050 – we need to get a shift on. Nuclear power stations take a long time to build. Perhaps we should be looking instead at tidal power or perhaps we should be looking at “limits”, “de-growth” or “enoughism”. Realistically should be looking at all four. This will involve a degree of political honesty with the great unwashed general public that leads to inevitable political suicide. But future historians will look back favourably on those who laid down their political careers for their friends. Please use this Parliament to start to “turn the tanker around”!

    Five years is probably long enough in Parliament for anyone anyway.

    Yours sincerely

    Q2 Speed of action
    Q3 Need to lead by example and go much further
    Q4 30 year timeframe far to long – carbon taxation needed in every sector to allow Northern Ireland proceed within 5-10 year timeframe

    3. The Energy Transition in Northern Ireland
    Q5. What are the unique characteristics of Northern Ireland that need to be considered in a net zero carbon energy transition?
    Q6. Is your organisation undertaking or planning to undertake projects to support the energy transition? If so, please provide further details.
    Q5 Plenty of wind and the opportunity to examine tidal energy much more urgently. Nothing wrong with putting solar panels on every south facing roof in Northern Ireland to minimise the need to use agricultural land which can then be actively re-wilded to improve biodiversity. During times of excess power production electricity can be exported east and south via interconnectors.
    Q6 As a voluntary member of the Scout Association, proposals for change in all areas of sustainable development need to be taken to NISC Programme and Development Committee urgently. All other organisations in Northern Ireland both voluntary and statutory should do likewise.

    4. Consumers

    Q7. How should we ensure that energy remains affordable for domestic consumers? What approach should be taken to eradicate fuel poverty?
    Q8. What steps could be taken to improve the relative cost competitiveness of larger non-domestic consumers?
    Q9. Is a strategic position of “enable and protect” the correct policy stance?
    a) What policies or schemes are needed to enable active consumers?
    b) What policies or schemes are needed to protect vulnerable consumers?
    Q10. What types of advice and information are required by all consumers and what are the best mechanisms for facilitating this?
    Q11. Are there examples of successful citizen energy projects in Northern Ireland and elsewhere that have delivered improved energy efficiency and/or clean energy to local communities?
    Q12. What opportunities are there in both urban and rural areas for citizen energy communities in Northern Ireland? What role could government have in facilitating these?
    Q13. What evidence can you provide that identifies the challenges and opportunities for NI energy consumers in decarbonising energy?
    Q7 Progressive carbon taxation and redistribution via subsidies in conjunction with progressive general taxation – local national and international.
    Q8 Urgent infrastructure changes to allow 24hr clock feed in tariffs to grid to avoid electricity wastage.
    Q9 a) carbon tax funded incentives for domestic solar panels; b) carbon funded incentives for home insulation
    Q10 Fuel bill breakdown to enhance comparisons and advantages of smart meters and renewable energies over the medium term after subsidised initial outlay costs eg heat pumps
    Q12 Mapping of geo-thermal opportunities
    Q13 Large initial costs for privately funding new domestic renewable non carbon heating and cooking systems

    5. Energy Efficiency

    Q14. What, if any, energy efficiency target or targets should be set for Northern Ireland?

    Q15. How should we define, measure and monitor energy efficiency to optimise its potential in our homes, business, economy and environment?

    Q16. What are the most important policy levers for government to ensure zero carbon in:
    a) New domestic and commercial buildings by 2050?;
    b) Existing domestic and commercial buildings by 2050?

    Q17. What should the future of energy efficiency support look like and who should be the key delivery bodies?

    Q14 Copy Orkney Islands example

    Q15 80% zero carbon homes and public transport by 2025

    Q16 a) legislation banning fossil fuel based heating systems in new builds , b) Carbon tax funded incentive schemes

    Q17 Progressive taxation supported schemes supporting demand reduction and zero carbon supply

    6. Heat

    Q18. What is the appropriate pathway and timeline for the decarbonisation of heat between now and 2030, and subsequently to 2050?
    Q19. What are the appropriate ways to measure the progress of decarbonising heat?
    Q20. What are the most cost-effective and sustainable steps that government might take to accelerate the reduction of the carbon intensity of heating fuels?
    Q21. Is decarbonisation of the gas grid a viable option and what evidence can be provided on both the speed and affordability of decarbonising the gas grid?
    Q22. What evidence can you provide on the opportunities for district heating schemes in Northern Ireland and where should responsibility lie for facilitating these?
    Q23. Can you provide any evidence or information on the opportunities for geothermal heat supply?

    Q18 Transfer home heating to heat pumps and solar panels in the next decade, with fines for continued fossil fuel use after 2030
    Q19 Measure reduction of coal, oil and gas use and rising in electricity (local and national production)
    Q20 Subsidise heat pumps (ground pumps in rural settings and air pumps in urban settings)
    Q21 Encourage innovation in hydrogen technology to replace natural gas

    7. Power

    Q24. What is the appropriate pathway for the decarbonisation of power from now to 2030, and subsequently to 2050?
    Q25. What target for electricity consumption generated from renewable sources by 2030 is ambitious, achievable and affordable?
    Q26. How can the new infrastructure necessary to meet a new renewable electricity target be delivered in a timely, affordable and acceptable way for consumers and society?
    Q27. What innovations and solutions could contribute to meeting a new renewable electricity target?
    Q28. What market incentives and support are necessary for investors to deliver the investment in renewable generation assets at a scale that will achieve a new renewable electricity target?
    Q29. What steps need to be taken by Government to facilitate investment in offshore and marine renewables for NI?
    Q24 Start to look in more detail at tidal power around NI and how to mitigate any adverse impact in the marine environment.

    Q25 100% renewable generated electricity to the whole (smart) grid by 2030

    Q26 Remove all barriers to expand onshore wind again and remove any KW caps on solar panel systems both domestic and commercial

    Q27 Incorporate all cutting edge battery storage technology urgently – see Orkney Islands

    Q28 Subsides to new battery technologies

    8. Transport
    Q30. What would be an appropriate pathway to decarbonised energy for transport to 2050?
    Q31. What role should active travel have in the decarbonisation of the transport sector and what should government do to support this?
    Q32. What energy infrastructure is needed to facilitate the uptake of electric vehicles in line with UK Government’s ‘Road to Zero’ targets?
    Q33. How will transport integrate with other energy uses (e.g. homes with solar generation, battery storage, EV charging) and what can government do to optimise the opportunities represented by this integration?
    Q34. To what extent can alternative low carbon transport fuels contribute to decarbonisation of the transport sector?
    Q35. Do you have any data/research to help inform and reduce the carbon intensity of our transport energy in order to achieve net zero carbon by 2050?
    Q30 Hydrogen buses and electric trains

    Q31 Dedicated urban greenways for cycling and pedestrians

    Q32 Low cost electric vehicle charge points allied to street lighting and new build public facilities (see Dundee)

    Q34 see Q30

    9. Other Issues:

    a. Security of Supply
    Q36. What specific risks to security of energy supply are likely to emerge as a result of our changing energy mix, and what actions can be taken to mitigate these?
    Q37. What measures or indicators could be adopted or developed to monitor energy security of supply?
    Q36 The lack of continuity of solar or wind generated power. Urgent progress in introducing tidal power to energy grid and the role of large storage batteries.

    b. The Role of Data
    Q38. What is the most cost-effective method of capturing consumer energy usage data in electricity and natural gas (where meters are in place)? In heating oil (where there is no metering obligation)?
    Q39. What concerns need to be addressed regarding data privacy, security and/or ownership?
    Q40. What are your views on applying the key recommendations of the Energy Data Taskforce for NI?
    Q41. What organisations or businesses do you see as having a key role in optimising the value of data? How will they do this?

    Q38 Do not waste effort monitoring oil or gas use just concentrate in phasing them out as quickly as possible.

    c. Carbon Capture and Storage
    Q42. What steps, if any, should NI policy-makers consider with regard to the development or implementation of CCUS in NI?
    Q42 Emphasise the need for speed in reaching carbon zero

    d. Energy and the Economy
    Q43. What specific economic opportunities will arise from the decarbonisation of energy?
    Q44. What skills are needed to realise the potential economic benefits of energy in the future?
    Q45. What are your views on the future of overall energy demand in NI and how can we ensure that any potential demand growth aligns with our net zero carbon target?
    Q43 New ‘green’ jobs in wind, solar and tidal power. But overall a move to a shorter working week and the sharing of work available in conjunction with a universal basic income should be the priority.

    Q44 Mechanical and electrical engineering and ICT skills

    Q45 Living on a planet with finite resources requires all to encompass the concept of “de-growth” and to thrive with less consumption.

    e. Delivery Framework for an Energy Strategy

    Q46. Do the existing division of responsibilities and powers across government enable the most effective approach to the overall aim of decarbonising energy? If not, what are your suggestions for improvement?

    Q47. What are the opportunities for local government to contribute to the delivery of the net zero carbon target?

    Q48. What are your views on how statutory duties and accompanying legislation and regulatory frameworks would need to change to facilitate the transition to net zero carbon by 2050?

    Q49. Is there a need for a dedicated organisation to champion, lead and deliver sustainable energy interventions? If so, what should this look like?
    Q46 No , the Committee on Climate Change at central Government should have over-riding responsibility and control of driving all policy towards zero carbon as quickly as possible.

    Q47 To promote “de-growth” locally

    Q48 Legislation and regulatory frameworks should ban all references to “GDP” (GDP is a busted metric and should be abandoned) and replace with a Sustainable Development Index (Hickel J, Ecological Economics, 2019)

    Q49 In NI take advice from Prof John Barry, QUB

    10. Additional information

    Q50. Is there anything else you would like to add in response to this Call for Evidence?

    Q50 Two of the biggest existential threats to humanity are potential conflict arising from poverty/inequality and global ecological damage.
    A universal basic income, a shorter working week, open borders and a progressive global wealth tax could address inequality. Ecologically, humanity needs a full commitment to renewable energies, education about the externalisation of costs, living with small environmental footprints and using power as voters, consumers, and investors to prioritise relationships with nature.

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