Australians Are Pushing For Parliament To Declare A Climate Emergency. Here’s What That Means

"It’s like Greta Thunberg says — we have to act as if our house is on fire, because it is."

Greta Thunberg nominated for Nobel Prize for School Strike for Climate

Back in May, the UK became the first country in the world to declare a climate emergency. Since then, Ireland, Canada, France and several other national parliaments have declared their own climate emergencies, along with more than 900 state and local governments across 18 countries.

Quite a few Australian councils are among them. The city of Sydney has declared a climate emergency, as have Melbourne, Hobart, and a number of smaller local council areas from Darebin to Wagga Wagga to Wollongong, which declared a climate emergency just yesterday. Thousands of Australians are now pushing for federal Parliament to get on board, and The Greens have committed to introducing a declaration of emergency to Parliament before the end of the year.

What does declaring a climate emergency mean in practical terms, though? For those of us who know that the climate crisis urgently requires action, not words, it can be hard to get excited about lobbying Parliament to state the obvious.

We spoke to federal Greens MP Adam Bandt about what a declaration of climate emergency means, and why the push for one needs your support. And as it turns out, declaring a climate emergency is more than just words.

What Is A Climate Emergency Declaration? Does It Actually Do Anything?

A few weeks ago, the Greens launched a campaign aimed at getting the Australian Parliament to declare a climate emergency ASAP. Adam Bandt has committed to introducing a declaration of emergency before the end of the year, and so far a petition calling on MPs to support it has gathered 20,246 signatures. That petition is only getting started: a separate petition started a few months ago has the support of 121,000 Australians and counting.

But what does declaring a climate emergency mean? Well, according to Bandt, “it’s a statement from the Parliament that the situation is so urgent it requires the whole country to pay attention and take action”.

“When governments declare emergencies for things like war or drought, it’s a message to the whole country that the situation is serious, and we all need to mobilise to address the threat. It’s like getting Parliament to call triple 0, to get the government to start acting and put out the huge fire that is global warming,” he told Junkee.

As for whether declaring a climate emergency forces the government to take serious action on climate change, the answer is no. But as Bandt explained, it’s helpful to think of it like a declaration of war. Sure, a country could declare war and then do nothing, but they’d look fucking stupid (and would quickly be annihilated). The same kind of thinking applies when declaring a climate emergency.

“It’s a declaration,” Bandt told us. “It’s not like an act of Parliament that legally requires the government to do certain things, but the government makes declarations all the time, and then acts accordingly.”

“The government needs to start telling the truth. We no longer have ten or twenty or thirty years to act — we have to act now. It’s like Greta Thunberg says — we have to act as if our house is on fire, because it is.”

It’s Hard For The Government To Keep Doing Nothing Once It Admits The House Is On Fire

Basically, the point of declaring a climate emergency is to force the government to admit that there’s a problem, so we can finally get on with doing something about it.

As Adam Bandt put it, “we’ve got a government that thinks it’s okay to chuck around lumps of coal in Parliament and talk about opening new coal mines in Australia, at the same time as the Arctic’s on fire, we’re in record drought in this country, and we just had the hottest summer on record. Parliament needs to shake some sense into this government, and that starts by telling the truth.”

“It’s like Greta Thunberg says — we have to act as if our house is on fire, because it is.”

“What will then flow from that is we can put the whole might of government towards getting Australia to 100 percent renewables, phasing out our coal exports so we don’t become one of the world’s biggest polluters, and looking after communities as we make the transition.”

“This is an emergency — it is one of the most serious situations that we have faced in this country. It threatens our population, it threatens our water, it threatens our environment. Once that is clear and accepted by the whole of the Parliament, then it becomes a much straighter path towards getting on renewables, getting away from coal, doing all the things we need to do to tackle the climate emergency.”

As Greta Thunberg put it, “I’m sure that the moment we start behaving as if we were in an emergency, we can avoid climate and ecological catastrophe. Humans are very adaptable: we can still fix this. But the opportunity to do so will not last for long. We must start today. We have no more excuses.”

Okay, How Do We Make Parliament Declare A Climate Emergency Already?

There are a whole heap of petitions calling for Parliament to declare a climate emergency, and you can find The Greens’ petition here.

Your political perspective shouldn’t matter here, though — the goal of declaring a climate emergency is to get people from all political backgrounds on board, because it should be clear to all of us that we are indeed facing a climate crisis. If you’re not a petition signer, the most helpful thing you can do is contact your local MPs and urge them to get on board. It’s past time we declared a climate crisis and got on with the job of doing something about it.