Are climate emergency declarations the new normal? - An international perspective


“Hundreds of thousands of climate advocates have marched on city streets this year to demand governmental action in the fight against climate change. As more protests near, an increasing number of cities have matched the reverberating sense of urgency with climate emergency declarations to drive policy.

Around 50 cities and counties in the United States have made such declarations, according to campaign group The Climate Mobilization, which urges a level of "World War II-scale" efforts to reverse the effects of global warming and cut emissions back to pre-industrialization levels. The Darebin City Council in Victoria, Australia, became the first city in the world to declare a climate emergency on Dec. 5, 2016, inspiring others to follow suit.”

But how effective will it actually be? I have so many conflicting thoughts on this article. First, I imagine I would be laughed out of the room when doing international capacity building and EM focused work, and my starting point is "carbon neutral".

Second, I can't see how declaring a "climate emergency" - as good or bad as that may be - will stop cities from exacerbating existing emergency and disaster-related issues by making bad decisions about current issues. Issues such as urban planning, wildlife interface, flood zones, etc. etc. Bad policy is just bad policy, and sometimes it takes time to realize the impact of bad policy.

A look at California will show you how the urban wildlife interface and urban planning issues have driven to loss of life and immense loss of property. Yes, climate change exacerbates these issues. But does declaring a climate emergency stop us from building in high-risk areas? I doubt it. And therefore I doubt the long term effectiveness of advanced policies such as this until we can get the fundamentals down and in place.

Often in international work, we say, “evolution not revolution” in terms of capacity building. If we can effectively learn from our decisions and change course, then apply new policies such as climate change and carbon zero programs on top of an evolving administration, things will only end up being positive. But there are many personal, political, and industry-related influences in these decisions which shape the outcomes. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

Are climate emergency declarations the new normal?