United Kingdom: Bipartisan UK Parliament declares a climate emergency

On 1 May 2019, the British Labour party moved a non-binding motion in the House of Commons to declare ‘an environment and climate emergency’, which was passed by members of the Parliament across the floor.

The debate in Parliament starts at 09:35 minutes in the video above.

→ UK Parliament: Original Youtube live-stream  |  Hansard transcript

→ Extinction Rebellion’s 37-minute excerpt: VideoAudio

Conservative’s environment secretary Michael Gove acknowledged MPs face a climate “emergency” and invoked the bipartisan spirit that helped Britain through the world wars of the 20th century, saying: “We’ve led in the past in defence of freedom, let’s lead now in defence of our planet.”

According to news reporters, the Conservative MPs had been told by their leader Theresa May not to oppose the motion.

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said climate change should be treated like a war-time emergency. She intervened in Gove’s speech to ask how that approach could be reconciled with the government’s decision to back a third runway at Heathrow airport. Gove did not reply, prompting shouts from MPs of “Answer the question.”

“Though symbolic, the vote recognises the urgency needed to combat the climate crisis and will be seen as a victory for protests launched by the Extinction Rebellion strikers in recent weeks,” commented Sky News.

Labour tweeted on the day to be “the first major political party declaring a climate emergency at the national level anywhere in the world”, though both the Scottish National Party and Party of Wales had declared a climate emergency in their respective countries – Scotland four days earlier, Wales on the same day.

Content of the motion

Labour’s motion calls on the government to aim to achieve net-zero emissions “around 2050” and for ministers to outline urgent proposals to deliver a “zero waste economy” within the next six months.

‘That this House declares an environment and climate emergency following the finding of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change that to avoid a more than 1.5°C rise in global warming, global emissions would need to fall by around 45 per cent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching net zero by around 2050;

recognises the devastating impact that volatile and extreme weather will have on UK food production, water availability, public health and through flooding and wildfire damage;

notes that the UK is currently missing almost all of its biodiversity targets, with an alarming trend in species decline, and that cuts of 50 per cent to the funding of Natural England are counterproductive to tackling those problems;

calls on the Government to increase the ambition of the UK’s climate change targets under the Climate Change Act 2008 to achieve net zero emissions before 2050, to increase support for and set ambitious, short-term targets for the roll-out of renewable and low carbon energy and transport, and to move swiftly to capture economic opportunities and green jobs in the low carbon economy while managing risks for workers and communities currently reliant on carbon intensive sectors;

and further calls on the Government to lay before the House within the next six months urgent proposals to restore the UK’s natural environment and to deliver a circular, zero waste economy.’

Jeremy Corbyn: Green Industrial Revolution

On 1 May 2019, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn posted a video statement on Twitter, which was viewed 70,000 times in just six hours.

“Labour has just forced parliament to declare a climate emergency. Now it’s time to get organising in our communities. In government, we’ll tackle climate change by investing in renewable industries. We’ll reprogramme our economy so that it works for people, communities and our precious planet. But we can’t just wait until we’re in government, we’re kick starting our Green Industrial Revolution now. We’re going to travel the country, putting your ideas at the heart of our plans.

Starting in Scarborough, where Rebecca Long-Bailey will speak with construction and manufacturing workers about what training is needed to build offshore wind turbines. Local people will tell us about the bus routes they’ll need restored, to help them get to work. And we’ll speak with housing groups, residents and business owners to determine how our plan for green jobs can work for their local economy.

The Green Industrial Revolution will fight climate change and bring good, secure jobs to areas across the country. But it won’t be imposed top down, it will be for the many, by the many.”
~ Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party in UK

“Real politics comes from the ground up, and that’s what today has shown. An emergency does not have to be a catastrophe – we now need a Green Industrial Revolution that will reprogramme our economy.”
~ Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party in UK

UK Labour tweeted:


Lucy Turnbull, AO, Chief Commissioner of Greater Sydney Commission, tweeted:

Barry Gardiner , shadow minister for international climate change, tweeted a compliment to the school striking students and Extinction Rebellion: “OFFICIAL. The U.K. parliament is the first in the world to declare an environmental and climate emergency. Thank you @ExtinctionR and all you schoolstriker activists. YOU DID IT!”

Michael E. Mann, American climate scientist, professor, director of the Penn State ESSC, and author of ‘The Madhouse Effect’, tweeted:

Media coverage

→ The Guardian – 2 May 2019:
MPs endorse Corbyn’s call to declare climate emergency
“Environment secretary calls for cross-party approach as Labour leader says vote can ‘set off wave of action’”

→ CNN – 1 May 2019:
UK Parliament declares ‘climate emergency’

→ Sky News – 1 May 2019:
MPs vote to declare ‘environment and climate emergency’
“Labour’s leader says it can set off a wave of action around the globe and promises to challenge Donald Trump over climate change.”

→ The Independent – 1 May 2019:
MPs make history by passing Commons motion to declare ‘environment and climate change emergency’
“Jeremy Corbyn calls for motion to ‘set off a wave of action from parliaments and governments around the globe’”

→ The Independent – 1 May 2019:
What is a ‘climate emergency’ – and what are MPs voting on today?
“Theresa May must put the country and politicians on a “war footing” to avert the disasters of climate change, the former Labour leader Ed Miliband has declared as MP’s gear up to vote on whether to declare a ‘climate emergency’.”

→ The Guardian – 1 May 2019:
MPs endorse Corbyn’s call to declare climate emergency
“Environment secretary calls for cross-party approach as Labour leader says vote can ‘set off wave of action’”

→ Reuters – 1 May 2019:
After protests, Britain’s parliament declares climate change “emergency”
“Britain’s parliament declared a symbolic climate change “emergency” on Wednesday, backing a call by opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for “rapid and dramatic action” to protect the environment for generations to come. The measure was passed as an opposition motion, using a procedure typically ignored by the ruling party, and has no direct consequences for policy. But it represents a nod to an increasing vocal activist movement particularly among young people, who have staged school strikes and civil disobedience campaigns to demand action.”

→ DW – 1 May 2019:
British Parliament declares ‘climate change emergency’
“Lawmakers have approved a motion requiring the government to make proposals to “restore the UK’s natural environment.” The move comes after protesters demonstrated for days, causing road closures and transit chaos.”

→ Gizmodo – 1 May 2019:
UK Labour Party Declares National Climate Emergency In Likely Political First
“It likely marks the first major party declaring a climate emergency at the national level anywhere in the world, in yet another sign that climate politics are rapidly shifting.”

→ Medium | We Dont Have Time – 1 May 2019:
As the first country in the world, the UK parliament has declared an Emergency for the Climate
“Now all countries must follow! Read how you could start a climate campaign to make your parliament declare a Climate Emergency.”

Extinction Rebellion: A “massive and necessary wake-up call for rapid and dramatic action”

“Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn praised Extinction Rebellion’s actions in London as “the inspiring climate activism we’ve seen in recent weeks” and said it was a “massive and necessary wake-up call for rapid and dramatic action”. He also said he hoped other countries would follow suit in declaring an emergency.”

Listen the interview on spreaker.com

The British Labour party’s shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey was interviewed by Sky News about why Labour will declare a national climate and environmental emergency.

→ Sky News – 28 April 2019:
It's not all about Brexit: Climate emergency and election challenges


Key demands of the Extinction Rebellion

“MPs will vote on Wednesday whether to declare an environmental and climate emergency following mass protests over political inaction in addressing the crisis. Labour will force a Commons vote on the issue, one of the key demands of the Extinction Rebellion (XR) movement, whose activists paralysed parts of London in previous weeks. Jeremy Corbyn said he hoped other countries would follow if the UK Parliament became the first in the world to declare a climate emergency…”

→ UK Daily Mail – 28 April 2019:
Jeremy Corbyn forces MPs to vote on declaring climate emergency after Extinction Rebellion protests over political inaction
“Labour’s motion has been bolstered by endorsement of activist Greta Thunberg. Acknowledging a full-blown crisis is one of Extinction Rebellion’s core demands. Comes after a ten-day London rally which saw over 1,000 protesters arrested. They glued themselves to trains, office buildings and Jeremy Corbyn’s house.”

→ Mirror – 27 April 2019:
Labour wants UK to be first country in the world to declare climate emergency
“Labour MPs to trigger a green industrial revolution when they declare an environment and climate emergency in the Commons.”

→ The Guardian – 28 April 2019:
Corbyn launches bid to declare a national climate emergency
“Labour will attempt to force Commons vote as it is revealed that the government has failed to spend anti-pollution cash.”

Citizens’ Assembly to oversee climate emergency

Oxford City Council has not only declared a climate emergency since January 2019, but taken things to the next step and become the first local government body in the UK to set up a Citizens’ Assembly to oversee it.

→ Oxford City Council – 23 April 2019:
Oxford City Council to establish UK’s first citizens assembly to address climate emergency
“Oxford City Council is to be the first UK local authority to establish a citizens assembly to help address the issue of climate change, and consider the measures that should be taken in Oxford.”

Sue Hayman, a member of Parliament who acts as the Labour Party’s shadow environment secretary, was out more than a month earlier when she took to the House of Commons floor to push for the UK to declare an “an environment and climate emergency”. She tweeted on 28 March 2019:

“I have just declared an environment and climate emergency in the House of Commons on behalf of @UKLabour and challenged Michael Gove to back our declaration. While councils nationwide are declaring climate emergencies this Conservative government just refused to do so.”
~ Sue Hayman, Labour Party’s shadow environment secretary

→ Greenpeace – 3 May 2019:
Australia: It’s time to declare a climate emergency
“A climate emergency has been declared in the UK, which will hopefully trigger the urgent action required to prevent catastrophic climate change. Will Australia be next?”