Declaring a climate emergency is not a Green Party agenda.
Climate action is a national agenda, supported passionately by the more progressive political parties. It is a local authority agenda, championed by proactive councillors and municipalities. It is a personal agenda, voiced in protest and proposition by concerned citizens.
However, many will argue that our plight is not an emergency – a dangerous threat to life that demands immediate action – because they do not feel threatened personally or see the urgency. Nonetheless, we are called to fend off a clear and present existential threat to our collective livelihood. It is tempting to ignore this or appease the naysayers, to wait and see what happens, hoping that things will get better of their own accord or that a global crisis plan will materialise in time to lead sweeping changes. As individuals this is not a plan we can control or take action on, and current populist movements make such global ambition a very distant vision. The version of events where we continue as before, for as long as possible, is at best wishful thinking and is increasingly seen for what it is: wilful blindness.
We need to take big and measurable actions, despite the fact that the threat from climate change is increasingly hard to predict. Nassim Taleb, the influential scholar, statistician and former risk analyst, focuses his work on problems of randomness, probability, and uncertainty. He warns us about treating the unknown risks of life as though they are the known risks of a game of chance. In his words, it’s a “ludic fallacy”. We do not anticipate unforeseen events in the future, because we do not predict events that are previously unobserved even if they have tremendous impact. These events, such as some of the feedback loops triggered by climate change, are considered extreme outliers – until their likelihood and magnitude are rationalised after the fact. Certainty around the probability and seriousness of potential climate change threats is rapidly becoming meaningless in the face of an overwhelming need simply to do as much as we can as fast we can.
The nature of an emergency is such that securing effective action sooner is better than implementing ambitious action plans later. By the time that future arrives, we will have to adapt to a new set of circumstances, both seen and unforeseen. What we can predict with certainty today is that the scale of the consequences we will face will be proportional to how much or how little we achieve now. Without doubt, we can achieve more now across the U.K. if a national Climate & Environmental Emergency is declared, unlocking a series of policy changes and available funds for rapid climate emergency mobilisation.
Labelling a state of climate emergency as a Green Party agenda is disingenuous, attempting to push it to the fringe when it’s a widely held concern (a sentiment held either vaguely, with purpose or in panic) while mainstream policies fail to keep up. Instead, such a declaration is not a political leaning but a fundamentally different perspective about what is “in the national interest”.
An increasing number of local councils have already declared there is no time left to waste and have taken matters into their own hands. Climate emergency motions have been passed by forty local authorities across the U.K. These climate emergency initiatives are led locally by councillors across the political spectrum, from the DUP, the SNP and Plaid Cymru, as well as Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrats and the Green Party. Instead of left to right, the issue of a climate emergency is turning the spectrum on its head from horizontal to vertical: from political parties of different colours to the concerns and actions of citizens, communities and cities.
Progressive councils are pressing hard and decarbonising their localities in many different ways, by insisting that developers build to higher energy saving standards in all new residential and commercial buildings; ensuring their own vehicles are powered by renewables, and insisting public transport providers do the same; switching their energy supplier to renewables and investing funds in renewable energy; divesting council investment and pensions from fossil fuels; requiring suppliers to be low or zero carbon; and expanding their green spaces and planting more trees.
Declaring a national climate emergency would accelerate the timelines of the government’s long-term 25-year environment plan, enact ambitious new laws to hold us all to account, and provide more funding to support local authorities, towns and cities in taking urgent action. There is no problem over what we could or should be doing right now, either nationally or in more places locally – there is just a lack of will.