More than half of all councils in the UK have declared a climate emergency, making commitments to drastically reduce carbon emissions, according to the Climate Emergency Network.
In the past eight months, 205 of the UK’s 408 principal authorities, including county, unitary, metropolitan, London boroughs and district councils, have made climate emergency declarations.
Many have committed to achieving net-zero carbon emissions in their local area by 2030, 20 years ahead of the government’s own 2050 target, which is in line with the recommendations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Though the government has not declared a climate emergency, Parliament passed a motion declaring one in May, though the motion has no legal weight and is non-binding on the government.
The climate emergency movement has snowballed since the first declaration was made in Darebin, Australia, in late 2016, reaching the UK last year when Bristol City Council became the first local authority in the country to make an official declaration recognising the urgent need to curb carbon emissions.
So far, 20 out of 36 metropolitan councils, 14 out of 27 county councils and 21 out of 33 London boroughs have declared climate emergencies, as well as the Greater London Authority and the London Assembly.
The declarations are spread across the UK, with 54 per cent of English councils declaring, followed by Wales on 41 per cent, then Scotland with 31 per cent and Northern Ireland with 18 per cent.
‘Need to act fast’
Councillor Doina Cornell, co-chair of the Climate Emergency Network and Leader of Stroud Council, the second to declare a climate emergency, said: “We need to act fast – we only have a few years to get practical measures in place in every part of this country to radically bring down our carbon emissions. Local councils have the resources and expertise to do the heavy lifting that’s needed, in partnership with local communities. We know what needs to be done, so now we just must get on with it.”
Councillor Kevin Frea, co-chair of the Climate Emergency Network and Deputy Leader of Lancaster City Council, added: “This movement is being led by every political group and is involving local people in planning the actions needed to cut carbon through working groups and citizens assemblies. It has re-engaged people in their local councils: public galleries have been packed when motions to declare are discussed, with many residents – including experts and young people – speaking in the debates.
“Councils have already started delivering on their declarations, switching to renewable energy suppliers on their estate, insulating existing homes and building more energy efficient new ones, planting trees and decarbonising transport.
“Combined with a recent poll showing that climate change has overtaken Brexit as the public’s top concern, it gives me hope that the government will have to take notice soon and provide the legislation and resources that we need to put our climate emergency declarations fully into practice. We have written to the new BEIS Secretary of State, Andrea Leadsom, and the new Local Government Secretary, Robert Jenrick, asking for an urgent meeting to address our concerns.”
Recognition of the planet’s plight and need to address the climate emergency by councils has been accompanied by increased public awareness of the issue. A recent poll by Britain Thinks suggested that British voters consider the environment to be of greater concern than housing and immigration, while a Greenpeace poll revealed 63 per cent of Britons acknowledge we are in a climate emergency.
This heightened awareness can be attributed largely to the actions of climate change activist group Extinction Rebellion and the school climate strikes made famous by teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg.
Extinction Rebellion protests brought parts of London to a standstill in November and April in a bid to get the government to take urgent action on the climate emergency, with 1,151 activists arrested and due to stand trial for civil disobedience in the April protests. More recently, activists blocked bridges and streets in five major UK cities in coordinated protests in July as part of the group’s ‘summer uprising’. More action is being planned for the autumn, with London set to once again be the focus.
The global school strikes meanwhile have seen thousands of schoolchildren refusing to attend school on Fridays to force global governments to take the climate emergency seriously. The co-leaders of the Green Party of England and Wales, Jonathan Bartley and Sian Berry, recently lent their support to calls for a global climate strike in September from all who support urgent climate action, not just students.