Does your council have what it takes to save the world? Pushing the local government climate emergency campaign to the next level.
By Adrian Whitehead
7 Nov 2019
Every day we delay action to reverse global warming we increase the chance we will deliver and unsurvivable world to our children, the vast majority of people on this planet and what remains of our world’s ecology.
Local councils, the closest level of government to our community, have recently led the world on climate action by declaring that we are facing a climate emergency.
Local councils can lead the world again by modeling the response needed by higher levels of government if we are to avoid a climate catastrophe. They can do this by entering a full emergency mode and mobilising their available resources to respond to global warming as the number one priority of council.
Local councils action cannot stop with declarations alone or even additional council programs. Each declared council needs a fundamental shift in how it operates.
CACE has refocused its campaigning towards getting the first councils in the world to enter emergency mode and is looking for councils, individuals, local groups and organisations to support this campaign.
In the article below I discuss the original intent behind the emergency declaration campaign, many of the impediments to achieving full emergency mobilisation we have experienced so far, and what emergency mobilisation would look like if taken on by a council.
People interested in the emergency mobilisation campaign can contact myself, Adrian Whitehead, at CACE directly via 0403 735 188 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Scientists are now calling climate change an existential threat to humanity. This means humanity faces potential extinction unless we prevent global warming from reaching temperatures of 2 degrees and above. Given that current international agreements are putting us on track for a 3-4 degree temperature rise, we are clearly in trouble.
The future we face will include failure of nation states, mass migration, mass starvation, rise of fascism and ultra nationalism, the death of our oceans, wars fought over water and food. This is all before food growing becomes so difficult smaller and smaller groups of survivors fight to the death over the remaining viable areas, with vast areas of the earth becoming uninhabitable for people and the ecosystems that currently live there. People have a hard time visualising these future so I will take a moment and link them to accessible examples in popular culture.
After ever increasing impacts of storms, floods, fire, cyclones etc we the first major global wide event may well be a global food shock, where the amount of food produced falls below demand and need. Many countries will implement martial law as they enforce strict rationing, exile foreigners and decide which parts of their own population is fed and consequently which parts are starved. This future that reflects elements of the movies How I Live Now (2013) or Children of Men (2006). Surviving national states will fight over food resources and water, running the risk of a major nuclear exchange if superpowers confront each other directly or through proxies. If a nuclear exchange occurs we will be living out the futures similar to those shown in the BBC drama Threads (1984) or in the worst case, if enough warheads are fired, the nuclear winter shown in The Road (2009). Even if there is no nuclear war, eventually climate impacts break the remaining nation states and billions starve to death, coasts flood and survivors battle it out in futures that will look more like those envisioned in Mad Max 2 (1981) and Mad Max Fury Road (2015) with the addition that most lands inhabited by survivors are being repeatedly smashed by extreme weather events than being peaceful dusty deserts. Global warming of course doesn’t stop there, remaining forests collapse, methane is released from melting permafrost and formly frozen methane hydrates trapped in ocean floors, creating the conditions of hot house earth pushing the surviving ecology and populations to the edge. This again takes us to scenario’s played out in the The Road (2009) where humans fight over the tiny areas were food can still be grown and while most others hunt humans to stay alive.
However it seems these futures are yet to be fully grasped by the broader public, including many of the people who can make a difference and help prevent them from becoming our reality.
For example, today over 1000 councils have declared a climate emergency in over 20 countries, but no local government (or higher government for that matter) has chosen to respond in a true emergency manner, missing the opportunity to provide the needed leadership and direction to their communities, other local governments and higher levels of government. This lack of emergency action contributes to delaying the date when we actually start to try and save ourselves.
CACE, which was involved in starting the global climate emergency declaration campaign is now focusing on getting the first councils to undertake a true emergency response. Our question to you is, does your council have what it takes to save the world?
Why going into emergency mode is important
When the climate emergency declaration campaign for councils was developed, it was originally conceived of in two parts.
The first part was for a council is to undertake an acknowledgement that a climate emergency was occurring and then to commit to starting a climate emergency response.
The second part was a seperate and later motion, originally called "the declaration". This represented the moment that that council moved into full emergency mode, where its climate response was its number one priority, and the council put all its discretionary resources into the emergency response. By doing this it would model the action needed by higher levels of government while at the same time educating their communities about both the problem and the solutions and being the actual taking of mitigation and resilience building needed.
If we are to reverse global warming and save ourselves, ALL councils will need to be working in emergency mode along with higher levels of government, so the question is not if, but when council will enter this mode.
The first council in the would to acknowledge a climate emergency and start down the emergency path was Darebin council in Melbourne Australia, back in December 2016. This was done as the first motion of the new council using the words,
“Council recognises that we are in a state of climate emergency that requires urgent action by all levels of government, including by local councils.”
(MOVED: Cr. Trent McCarthy SECONDED: Cr. Steph Amir 5 December 2016)
This motion fulfilled the first step of our suggested response and signaled to the community that Darebin Council was commitment to start the process of responding to the climate emergency rather than the Council entering a state of emergency action.
Now almost 3 years after the initial acknowledgement by Darebin we have over 1000 councils, several countries, schools churches and other institutions acknowledging or “declaring” we are in a climate emergency.
Unfortunately, the original differentiation between an acknowledgement and a declaration has to a significant degree been lost, with many councils and countries now only "declaring" climate emergencies in the broadest sense i.e., acknowledging the problem and as at mid October 2019, as far as we know, no council or government has actually gone into a full emergency mode.
Why has no council gone into emergency mode?
A few reasons. Firstly the campaign was started and driven but a tiny handful of self funded activists who simply lacked the resources to keep the project fully on track as it took off around the globe.
This was compounded in the early days because many “non emergency” climate activists treated the council based emergency declaration with skepticism as they failed to understand the potential impact on the global climate response and its role in accelerating real action on global warming.
Once we got councils to acknowledge or declare we often found strong resistance from a range of players including global warming skeptic or denier councillors, with more general resistance from council officers, council managers but most importantly the CEO and council executives who were uncomfortable moving out of a business as usual approach for their council. This often resulted in unwillingness or refusal to act with the needed urgency or a lack of willingness even significantly improve the council’s climate response, let alone go into emergency mode.
Other councils seemingly embraced the idea but ultimately failed to break out of business as usual modes of operations and thus fail to enter emergency mode.
The lack of uptake by council staff also included not promoting climate emergency response as a priority in their communications and or failing to frame their existing or new actions in the emergency frame, or even promoting non emergency framed climate change as an important issue at all.
The lack of focus on communicating the climate emergency undermines the emergency campaign and suggests it is not an emergency at all.
For example look at the front page of the websites of some of the earlier adopters such as:
Hoboken NJ (https://www.hobokennj.gov/),
Los Angles (https://www.lacity.org/), and
finds no mention of the word “climate” or “climate change”, let alone the “climate emergency” (all viewed 20 October 2019).
It is important to note that many of the councils mentioned above had strong motions for emergency action. For example the Bristol motion included a Bristol wide emergency target of “carbon neutral by 2030“, including consumption emissions, called on the national government to provide the resources needed to achieve this, and demanded a report within 6 months that outlined the action the council will take to achieve this (you can see the response by the Bristol Mayor in July 2019 here https://democracy.bristol.gov.uk/documents/s34127/Climate%20Emergency%20-%20The%20Mayors%20Response.pdf).
When presented with these strong motions councils have not risen to the challenge and councillors have not been strong enough or diligent enough to force the CEO’s and senior managers to prioritise a climate emergency response.
The fourth element that has undermined the campaign has been organisations rebranding their existing suicidal goals and targets as “climate emergency” targets. A stand out is WWF who attached the “climate emergency” brand to their suicidal goal of net zero by 2045 in a UK petition while in Australia still campaigning for net zero by 2050.
An example of this in Australia was Greenpeace. Greenpeace Australia chose to utilise the Council focused Climate Emergency Declaration campaigns to further its anti-fossil fuel campaign and in an attempt to build Greenpeace local campaign groups. Their original “climate emergency” petitions included the non climate emergency target of net zero by 2040 and focused almost exclusively on only one of their campaign targets namely fossil fuels. Greenpeace only changed their target to 2030 when pressured by CACE.
Even when similar suicidal goals and targets are not branded as climate emergency targets they still undermine the campaign by claiming that 20-30 years to reach net zero is an appropriate response to global warming.
This response has been called soft denialism, a term created by climate emergency campaigner Bryony Edwards, and it contributes to the lack of urgency and outcomes we are seeing today. Soft denialism undermines the call for the radical system change needed, implying that incrementalism and long time frames will do the job.
We also see these inadequate goals and targets being promoted in the local government space by groups other than Greenpeace. For example Climate Council’s Cities Cities Power Partnership. The Climate Council claims that provides “authoritative, expert advice to the Australian public on climate change and solutions based on the most up-to-date science”. Yet the Climate Council’s Cities Power Partnership requires council partners to only “select 5 key actions from the partnership pledge” within 6 months. The pledge lists 39 possible actions while completely ignoring animal agriculture. The current limited scope and ambition of the Cities Cities Power Partnership is an example of a council focused campaign that undermines CACE’s campaign to get councils to fully mobilised by creating the impression that a 5 key action response is both reasonable and adequate.
The fifth reason is that the emergency mobilisation campaigns are still being affected by past and current anti climate emergency campaigns led by groups such as Australian Conservation Foundation, the communication consultancy Common Cause, and Australia Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC) to name a few.
The opposition to “climate emergency” campaigning generally was based around an inability to understand and at times an almost dogmatic belief that emergency framed climate communication could not result in positive campaign outcomes. Fortunately the evidence on the ground suggests otherwise with the creation of a global movement that predated the rise of the student strikers and Extinction Rebellion protests and now includes national governments and significant new initiatives being launched at a number of levels (see the Cedamia website for a current list of government and councils that have declared an emergency), and more recently 11,000 global scientists declaring a climate emergency
There also has been a communication guide produced by Jame Morton in response to the anti emergency critique. Jane, a psychologist and climate campaigner, produced a booklet titled “Don’t mention the emergency”, on why “emergency” framed climate communication works and why those opposing it have got it wrong. You can download this guide here for free.
More recently, some groups still are opposing “climate emergency” framing, fearing that an emergency response equates to some sort of imposition of totalitarian government or that an emergency response somehow automatically equates to injustice rather than climate justice and global equity. For example you can read the piece by Kelly Albion from AYCC on May 15, 2019 (her article is here).
The view that an emergency response automatically leads to injustice is quite delusional as climate justice can and should be incorporated into any and all climate emergency responses. Groups such as Save the Planet and CACE have always done so, for example CACE encourages councils to use their climate emergency response to help the most disadvantaged members of their community by helping reduce energy poverty, reduce food insecurity and improve the quality of houses in terms of thermal comfort etc. An overseas example is the Climate Emergency Institute, established in Canada, which calls for “The climate crisis demands compassion and respect for the basic human rights of the huge populations of the most climate change vulnerable with respect to their health, livelihood and survival.”
If we want to look for climate injustice, the real climate injustice and crime against humanity being perpetrated is the suicidal goals, inadequate targets, and blanket rejection of most geoengineering options. This includes the presentation of single issues solutions promoted by major eNGO’s including by AYCC,as acceptable responses to global warming when they will not prevent a climate catastrophe and will in fact lead to the death of billions and the loss of most of our ecology.
There is some risk of course that the scenarios that Albion talks about may come to pass, and even much worse, but these are much more likely to happen if we delay our emergency response rather than be proactive and start it now. If we fail to reverse global warming before the impacts become too severe, ultra nationalism and isolationism will inevitably arise and the opportunity to achieve major social justice and equity outcomes on a global scale will be reduced or be lost.
Why is this a problem? Where to next?
Clearly councils failing to take the next step sends the wrong message to community and higher levels of government that inaction or mediocre action is the acceptable response to the climate emergency. Consequently CACE is refocusing our campaign to get the first councils in the world to go into emergency mode and are looking for councils, community groups and individuals to help us start these campaigns.
Ideally your council has already made some sort of climate emergency declaration but this does not need to be the case. If they have made a climate emergency declaration you can now focus on an emergency mobilisation campaign, if they haven’t you can try for both.
CACE describes lots of ideas for community campaigning to put pressure on your council on our website under the section “Building a Campaign” (https://www.caceonline.org/build-a-campaign.html). The gold standard for community engagement is to go house by house in your council area discuss your council going into emergency mode, including why we need to this and what this would mean for council operations. You then ask the household if they support such action. In this way you can eventually report to council your level of community support, street by street. This method was used by the Lock the Gate campaign to declare council area and towns “frack free”. See the town of Bolloloola in the NT declare their town frack free (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XoJd09dnoXM). CACE is producing a template for a leaflet soon to help your communication with your community.
What is the criteria for a council to be in full emergency mode
If you are interested in starting a climate emergency mobilisation campaign in your community you will need to develop an understanding of what it means.
In short we define full emergency mode as:
- the climate emergency response (mitigation, resilience, education and advocacy) is the number one priority of council
- staff training has been undertaken for all staff, including managers and the CEO, focused on the climate emergency and the role of council in the areas of mitigation, resilience, education and advocacy
- the council has undergone a whole of council review of existing policies and practices to identify where climate emergency outcomes could be achieved in the area of mitigation, resilience, education and advocacy, through modified business practices, modified policies, new programs or new policies, including reviewing the councils fund management and procurement policies
- the council has done an emergency budgeting exercise and has identified all available discretionary funds that can be directed to a climate emergency response and has committed these funds
- a new climate emergency policy should be developed incorporating the areas of mitigation, resilience, education and advocacy. The new policy should be focused on achieving multiple benefits beyond just a global warming response such as supporting the most disadvantaged members of the community, and include all emissions sources including consumption
- the climate emergency response should feature as the lead issue in all general council communications including the home page of the website and any community newsletters. In an emergency, every opportunity is taken to communicate the emergency to the community
- the council is mobilising its community to support their action and work with council to achieve net negative emissions by 2030 or earlier including putting pressure on higher levels of government.
- a community wide planning process has been undertaken for how the council can achieve net negative emissions, including consumption emissions, by 2030 or earlier within the broader community, including the development of key target areas, key partnerships and budget requirements.
We describe this in significant detail on the CACE website including the steps a council can take to enter an emergency mode and what this looks like on our pages:
- Motions to Declare a Climate Emergency (https://www.caceonline.org/motions-to-declare-a-climate-emergency.html),
- Entering Emergency Mode (https://www.caceonline.org/entering-emergency-mode.html),
- Your Climate Emergency Plan (https://www.caceonline.org/your-climate-emergency-plan.html).
CACE is keen to help
If you are wanting to start a climate emergency campaign probably the best thing is talk the ideas with a CACE campaigner. CACE is happy to support you campaign by helping you get across the basic ideas, helping you develop a campaign plan, providing a speaker for a public event or in any other way you think might help. Contact CACE director Adrian Whitehead directly via mobile 0403 735 188 or email email@example.com.
Have there been positive outcomes from the emergency declaration campaign? Absolutely!
The emergency framing of global warming has refocused attention on the inadequate action our state and federal governments and the dire threat of current and future global warming. It has added a sense of urgency to our actions and helped flush out climate skeptics and deniers as well as those putting the short term interests of corporations over the people and ecology of this planet.
In many parts of the world climate emergency acknowledgements and declaration have lead to new and improved climate programs that would not have occurred without the movement.
Many communities have used climate emergency campaign to conduct large scale community awareness campaigns in communities where there has never before seen a climate campaign of any description. Public halls have been filled to overflowing, petitions have been collected and doors knocked. For example despite losing their emergency motion at council, the Knox climate emergency campaign group, was this first on the ground climate campaign in their area, making face to face contact with over 1% of the population of their council over just a couple of months.
Combined with the increasingly strong protest movements lead by the Climate Student Strikers and Extinction Rebellion, the emergency declaration campaign provides a pathway to eventually get state and federal governments on side.