Why so many serious people are backing a declaration of climate emergency
Cameron Jewell | 2 August 2016
Activists call on government to declare climate emergency
Melting permafrost releasing deadly anthrax, worldwide floods and fires, temperature records being set more and more frequently – the effects of climate change are clear and growing. Now a group of concerned scientists and activists are calling on the government to declare a state of “climate emergency”, and have even drafted legislation to illustrate what such a move could look like.
With global temperatures this year breaching the 1.5°C barrier the Paris Agreement had been tasked with protecting against, there’s a growing view that the world is moving too slowly to avert disaster, and that governments must rapidly transform their economies in response. This will be the position argued by former Australian Coal Association chair turned climate activist Ian Dunlop in Sydney tonight [Tuesday], speaking at the University of Technology Sydney’s The Big Conversation event with The Fifth Estate managing editor Tina Perinotto part of a panel discussion to follow.
Mr Dunlop is joined by a number of prominent scientists and climate activists in calling for decisive action on climate change, with a petition recently published in The Age calling on the government to declare a climate emergency, with signatories including philosopher Peter Singer, former Liberal opposition leader John Hewson, 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben, political scientist Robert Manne and atmospheric scientist Professor David Karoly, among others.
Pointing to how serious some people are taking the issue, the petition, which can be signed by the public, has inspired the drafting of a Climate Emergency (Restructuring & Mobilisation) Act for the federal government.
Created by Philip Sutton, manager and strategist of Research and Strategy for Transition Initiation, co-author of the 2008 book Climate Code Red, and a former public servant who has drafted Victorian legislation, the model legislation has been created “to provide for the declaration of a emergency, the restructuring of the Australian economy, the mobilisation of resources, and for related purposes”.
“This Act provides the Australian Government with the legal powers and planning machinery needed to restructure the economy and mobilise resources in order to prevent or limit a general climate and ocean acidification crisis and to urgently restore a safe climate and safe ocean pH,” the model act reads.
One of the instigators of the petition, Margaret Hender, said Mr Sutton was compelled by the petition to begin drafting legislation.
“He felt it was necessary to start fleshing out what such a declaration and mobilisation might look like since we imagine most people will find it hard to imagine that government could pass emergency legislation and mobilise resources in the way we ask, at World War II scale and speed,” she said.
The activists are calling on the government to ban new fossil fuel projects, rapidly roll-out renewable energy projects, phase-out of coal-fired power, protect native forests, and create “just transition pathways for workers affected by the sweeping changes”.
The Democrats in the US are in
And while the thought of a World War II-style mobilisation of resources to tackle climate change may sound extreme, it is precisely what the US Democratic Platform Committee approved last month, making climate change a key battleground in the election between Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican contender Donald Trump, who has been openly hostile regarding the science of climate change.
“We believe the United States must lead in forging a robust global solution to the climate crisis,” the platform states. “We are committed to a national mobilisation, and to leading a global effort to mobilise nations to address this threat on a scale not seen since World War II. In the first 100 days of the next administration, the President will convene a summit of the world’s best engineers, climate scientists, policy experts, activists and indigenous communities to chart a course to solve the climate crisis.”
With an Australian federal election that practically ignored climate change, perhaps the action of the world’s largest economy could be the kick Australia needs to start taking climate action seriously.