UK Government Becomes First To Declare Climate Change A National Emergency


Extinction Rebellion protests in April 2019. Mark Murphy photos/Shutterstock

In what must have been a welcome respite from the saga that is Brexit, the British government became the very first in the world to declare climate change a national emergency, following a call from opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn. 

The decision was made after actions by the Welsh and Scottish governments, who declared their own climate change national emergencies earlier this week. Various UK towns and cities, including London, Edinburgh, Bristol, and Manchester, have made similar announcements in a bid to put pressure on Parliament.


Michael Gove, the environment secretary, told audiences on Tuesday that "We [the government] recognize the situation we face is an emergency, it is a crisis, it is a threat that all of us have to unite to meet."

"Five of the warmest years that this planet has ever endured have happened since 2010. The consequences for all of us are visible," he added, The Financial Times reports. 

We've been fairly certain about the human-related nature of climate change for a while now – so, why the announcement this week?

Scientific studies showing that human actions are affecting the swing and sway of the environment are mounting and becoming more and more difficult to dismiss, while we are increasingly seeing for ourselves weather taking a more extreme turn. Think: Camp Fire, record-breaking heatwaves, and an increasing number of hurricanes on the scale of Hurricane Harvey.


But the final push seems to be the actions of people at a grassroots level, including the waves of student protests inspired by 16-year-old environmental activist, Greta Thunberg, who came to London to speak to MPs last week. 

Referencing the British government's involvement in shale gas fracking and its exploitation of oil and gas fields in the North Sea, she told government ministers, "This ongoing irresponsible behavior will no doubt be remembered in history as one of the greatest failures of humankind.

"You don't listen to the science because you are only interested in the answers that will allow you to carry on as if nothing has happened."

The declaration also comes after 11 days of climate protests that caused parts of London to grind to a halt last month. The demonstrations were led by an environmental action group called Extinction Rebellion, who are perhaps best known for gatecrashing a Brexit debate naked.


Indeed, climate change is becoming an increasingly large concern amongst the British public with 76 percent calling it an emergency, according to a Greenpeace poll.

But what does this declaration actually mean? Gove has said that legislation will follow, ensuring the country has the "highest standards of environmental protection". Still, for now, it is a largely symbolic gesture. Its main aim is to show that climate change is being prioritized and placed at the top of the national agenda. 

"It is a great first step because it sends a clear signal that we are in a crisis and that the ongoing climate and ecological crises must be our first priority," Thunberg said of the decision.

"We cannot solve an emergency without treating it like an emergency."


While Extinction Rebellion says it is a "first step in the government telling the truth about the climate and ecological emergency."

"We have no time to waste," Corbyn said in a statement. "We are living in a climate crisis that will spiral dangerously out of control unless we take rapid and dramatic action now.

"This is no longer about a distant future. We are talking about nothing less than the irreversible destruction of the environment within our lifetimes."


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