Several governments, scientists, climate activists, and media organizations around the world have declared a climate emergency to underscore further the need to tackle climate change head on. Hence, by declaring this phenomenon as an emergency, these institutions, groups, and individuals have endorsed the need to prioritize mitigation efforts and the eventual entering into a state of emergency or its equivalent in numerous jurisdictions.
Background and Forerunners of the Declaration
Groups in Australia launched a Climate Emergency Declaration petition in May 2016 in an attempt to convince the three levels of the Australian government to take necessary actions intended for climate change mitigation. These levels include local councils, state or territory governments, and the national or federal government. Note that Australian climate activists have been staging public protests since the middle of the 2000s to encourage their local and federal politicians to consider the threat of climate change as an emergency.
On 5 December 2016, Trent McCarthy, Greens Councilor at the City of Darebin in Melbourne, formally declared a climate emergency. The city became the first government in the world to make this pronouncement. Further in August 2017, Darebin introduced a set of actions through the “Darebin Climate Emergency Plan,” which includes a reduction in emission, the utilization of renewable energy to include solar power, and incentivizing compliant businesses.
Several governments followed suit. These include the City of Bristol in the United Kingdom, spearheaded by Green Party politician Carla Denyer who wrote a motion in November 2018 that was unanimously passed by the city council. The cities of Hoboken in New Jersey and Berkeley in California also made similar declarations in 2019. The declaration in Bristol was the first in Europe, and it has been credited for encouraging other cities and parliaments to initiate similar actions and public pronouncements.
Pope Francis also made a climate emergency declaration in June 2019 during a meeting with the executives of multinational oil companies, and urged these leaders to pursue a “radical energy transition” away from fossil fuels. More than 7,000 higher and further education institutions around the world represented by The Alliance for Sustainability Leadership in Education, Second Nature, and the Youth and Education Alliance of the United Nation Environment Programme, also made a joint declaration on 10 July 2019.
Scientific Consensus Regarding Climate Emergency
A January 2020 article published in BioScience, a monthly peer-reviewed journal published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Institute of Biological Sciences, carried the endorsement made by over 11,000 scientists around the world. It stated that the climate crisis has arrived, thus urging further that an “immense increase of scale in endeavors” to conserve the biosphere is required to prevent indescribable suffering due to the effects of climate change.
Calling the phenomenon a “crisis” or an “emergency” was appropriate to evoke “the gravity of the threats the planet faces from continued greenhouse gas emissions,” thereby spurring the need to demonstrate a specific level of political willpower that scientists believe has long been missing from advocacies related to mitigating climate change. Drawing from the emotional engagement and support resulting from using the term “global warming, using the words “crisis” and “emergency” could have an even stronger impact
The Bioscience article noted overwhelming signs that the global climate has indeed come into a crisis, thus requiring an emergency response. These include sustained increases in livestock populations and meat production that contribute to global carbon emissions, substantial loss of tree cover and forest areas, sustained increases in fossil fuel consumption, and upward trends in air travel or the use of commercial aircraft that are concurrent with rising temperatures, severe weather patterns and phenomenon, and melting of ice.
A 2019 article published by Nature, a British weekly multidisciplinary scientific journal, concluded that based on the evidence from the climate tipping points alone, the world is in a “state of planetary emergency.” The article defined further “emergency” as a product of risk and urgency. Note that in climate science, tipping points represent thresholds that when exceeded, can result in drastic changes in the state of the climate system.
Involvement of Media and Publishing Organizations
Numerous organizations in the field of media and publishing have joined the call toward declaring a climate emergency. The Covering Climate Now, a nonprofit global consortium co-founded in 2019 by the Columbia Journalism Review and The Nation together with The Guardian and the New York Public Radio, urged other media organizations, journalists, and media practitioners to demonstrate a similar position in their reportage.
The Guardian updated its editorial style guide in May 2019 to promote the use of the term “climate emergency” in its climate-related articles and other coverages to highlight the gravity and urgency of the problem. In reiterating this position while also taking cues from the COVID-19 media response and coverage, the publication announced on 12 April 2021 that it is partnering with newsrooms around the world to encourage journalists to consider the climate crisis like the emergency it is while also encouraging them to use the term in their reportage.
Scientific American, an American popular science magazine owned by Springer Nature Group, noted, “we are living in a climate emergency, and we are going to say so.” The editorial team argued that it is time to use the term that thousands of scientists around the world agree is needed. It explained further that “An emergency is a situation that requires immediate action” while also emphasizing the fact that journalism should reflect what science says.
Other organizations have joined the cause. These include Noticias Telemundo, Al Jazeera, Asahi Shimbun, and La Repubblica. As mentioned in the Covering Climate Now statement, the position is a statement of science, not politics. It explained further: “The media’s response to COVID-19 provides a useful model. Guided by science, journalists have described the pandemic as an emergency, chronicled its devasting impacts, called out disinformation and told audiences how to protect themselves. We need the same commitment to the climate story.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Profolus, an imprint of Esploro Company, and all other related imprints, have signed the Joint Press Statement on the Climate Emergency of Covering Climate Now, thus joining thousands of newsrooms and journalists, as well as other publishers around the world in using “climate emergency” in our reportage to highlight the gravity and urgency of the current situation, as well as to promote informative discourse related to the phenomenon.
FURTHER READINGS AND REFERENCES
- Carrington, D. 2019. “Why The Guardian is Changing the Language It Uses About The Environment.” The Guardian. Available online
- Climate Emergency Declaration and Mobilization in Action. 2021. “Declare A Climate Emergency.” Climate Emergency Declaration and Mobilization in Action. Available online
- Fischetti, M. 2021. “We Are Living in a Climate Emergency, and We’re Going to Say So.” Scientific American. Available online
- Harvey, F. and Ambrose, J. 2019. “Pope Francis Declares ‘Climate Emergency’ and Urges Action. The Guardian. Available online
- Lenton, T. M., Rockström, J., Gaffney, O., Rahmstorf, S., Richardson, K., Steffen, W., and Schellnhuber, H. J. 2019. “Climate Tipping Points — Too Risky to Bet Against.” Nature. 575(7784): 592-595. DOI: 1038/d41586-019-03595-0
- Ripple, W. J., Wolf, C., Newsome, T. M., Barnard, P., and Moomaw, W. R. 2019. World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency.” BioScienc DOI: 10.1093/biosci/biz088
- The Guardian. 2021. “The Climate Emergency is Here. The Media Needs to Act Like It.” The Guardian. Available online
- United Nations Environment Programme. 2019. “Higher and Further Education Institutions Across the Globe Declare Climate Emergency.” UN Environment Programme. Available online