Three parliaments on the British Isles declared a "climate emergency" last week. So what action now?

UK politicians meet Greta Thunberg, with an  “empty chair”  for Teresa May

UK politicians meet Greta Thunberg, with an “empty chair” for Teresa May

We’re in a moment where climate activism from below seems to be able to strike the confidence of governments. This last week, the UK, Scottish and Welsh Parliaments all declared a “climate emergency” - one of Extinction Rebellion and the school strikes (led by Greta Thunberg)’s key demands.

XR’s blog on “The Emergency” lays out a stark menu of reports and assessments - on temperature warming, mass extinction of species, insect die-off, food insecurity, drought and scarcity, rising seas, ocean acidification, sea ice, pollution, soil loss. This is their case for urgency, which leads to three demands (see video).

The first of them has been achieved - governmental declaration of climate and environmental emergency. The second - that “governments must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025” - is a deliberately hard target.

What “climate emergency” declarations allow is for green parties and advocates, already functional within these polities, to return to some of their long-standing objections to their governments’ policy. In some cases, this means detaching themselves from political campaigns that have been more socio-economic than environmental.

For example, while the school strikes and XR were building momentum, Caroline Lucas MP (the sole representative of the Green Party in the Westminster parliament) had been touring the country on a “listening exercise” around Brexit (see the Dear Leavers Twitter channel).

In Scotland, the Scottish Green Party has been enabling a majority for the budgets of the Scottish National Party (both of them support Scottish independence) since 2016. Yet the SGP’s concessions for the 2019 budget, for example, are mostly about the budgets and powers of local councils (with a tourism tax the only policy veering towards an environmental angle).

And although the Scottish Parliament has a notable record on sustainable energy development, it is still committed - if independence ever happens - to licensing new oil explorations. The Scottish Greens are using the climate emergency stick to beat the SNP government on this issue - but it seems to have taken the XR and schoolkid rebels to return SGP to their core purpose.

As blogged about earlier this week, the third demand from XR - that governments start to listen to the deliberations of citizens assemblies - would seem to be the next serious challenge from the new climate militants, if the second demand is poorly responded to. The situation is so fluid, one would be foolish to dismiss this as an anarchistic dream.

Update: The Centre for Alternative Technology sets out how we can get to net-zero carbon by 2025

Update: a sustainable business expert on BusinessGreen responds generously and constructively to XR.