To date, 744 local governments and 16 countries have declared a climate emergency to spur action in the face of the crisis.
Today, a coalition of lawmakers in the U.S., led by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Senator Bernie Sanders, and Representative Earl Blumenauer, are introducing a resolution in the House and the Senate that would add the United States to the list of countries that have legally recognized the threat of climate change. In the U.S. so far, several municipal governments, including New York’s and several in the Bay Area in California, have signed legislation declaring a climate emergency. But activists—particularly those from The Climate Mobilization, a nonprofit pushing for a “WWII-scale climate mobilization” to combat the climate emergency—have made it clear that nations now need to step up.
The coalition supporting the resolution includes various groups like Mothers Out Front, which advocates for climate action to protect future generations, Extinction Rebellion, which uses nonviolent civil disobedience to draw attention to climate threats, and the Progressive Democrats of America. More than 450 elected officials including mayors and state representatives from 40 states have echoed the call for declaring climate change an emergency.
Global climate action frameworks—like the Paris agreement and portions of the UN Sustainable Development Goals—are carried out at a national level. Currently, the U.S. lacks a comprehensive climate action plan, although several 2020 presidential candidates, like Governor Jay Inslee and Senator Elizabeth Warren, have introduced strategies they would enact if elected. But, according to The Climate Mobilization, making the emergency declaration is “the first step” toward sparking wide-scale climate action.
Much like war or a state of emergency following a natural disaster draws financial resources, labor, and sustained attention to a crisis, the new climate emergency resolutions position climate change the same way. The Senate resolution reads:
“… the global warming caused by human activities, which increase emissions of greenhouse gases, has resulted in a climate emergency that demands a national, social, industrial, and economic mobilization of the resources and labor of the United States at a massive-scale to halt, reverse, mitigate, and prepare for the consequences of the climate emergency and to restore the climate for future generations.”
Blumenauer said the inspiration for the climate emergency resolution came from Donald Trump’s declaration, in February, of a national emergency to build the border wall with Mexico. “The national emergency is not the border wall, it’s the climate,” he said on a press call. In his home state of Oregon, Blumenauer added, record droughts and wildfires are already impacting lives. “This is not just a scientific crisis, it’s a political crisis,” Ocasio-Cortez adds. Since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report was published last fall, the idea that we have 12 years to rapidly decarbonize the economy has become widespread. “This isn’t that we have 12 years to pass legislation,” Ocasio-Cortez says. “It’s less than 12 years to implement a global solution.”
Of course, given the situation in today’s Senate, the resolution will most likely not even come to a vote. But the symbolism is clear: While the climate emergency resolution is not a climate action strategy, nor does it prescribe specific responses, it would clear the way for broader action plans like the Green New Deal, which calls for wide-scale decarbonization of industry and energy systems alongside economic development action like job creation. Introduced as a resolution in February by Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey, the comprehensive framework is now shaping the discussion around climate action in the U.S. Presidential contenders including Warren and Senator Kamala Harris have cited the need for a Green New Deal in their campaigns.
But in order for that framework or another climate action plan to become policy, there needs to be broad consensus that climate change is worth the investment and attention. The climate emergency resolution aims to create that consensus and open the door for national climate policy to take root in the U.S. And Sanders adds that if the U.S. were to acknowledge the scope of the climate crisis through this resolution, joining countries like Ireland and France that have already declared a state of emergency, it could spur greater transnational collaboration on a crisis that is “not just an American issue but a global issue.”