Philip Sutton with the model Act

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, 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.

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  1. I might even vote for a mainstream party, if they were to address global warming in a significant and meaningful way….. then again I think they have already failed to act in a timely manner.

  2. We have the Paris Agreement in place, which is an international process for transparency and review of total global climate action and emissions reduction, but countries still set their own targets and climate plan within this process. Australia’s 5 percent 2020 target is a pissweak effort, and our 26-28 percent 2030 target on 2005 levels isn’t much better. If all countries adopted similar ambition we would be heading well in excess of 4C to 5C by 2100.

    So Australia needs to ramp up our pre 2020 target, set an interim target for 2025 (This is a requirement of the COP21 decision to bring us into line with nearly all other nations) and boost our 2030 target.

    Prime Minister Rudd took to Copenhagen in 2009 a commitment range of 5-25% cut in emissions with 5 percent unconditional. In 2014 the Climate Change Authority assessed many of the international conditions had been met to lift our target to 19 percent by 2020. We now have the Paris Agreement and yet our Government is doing nothing about increasing our near term (2020) ambition. It is my understanding that Rudd’s Australian commitment to the UNFCCC still stands, yet there is total silence on this.

    COP22 in Marrakech is likely to emphasise pre2020 action, yet Australia is coasting with clearly inadequate emissions reduction as our fair share. The Labor party has been equally silent on pre2020 ambition through the 2016 election campaign. A reason why this is definitely a climate emergency. And why we need this climate emergency legislation to ramp up our efforts of a just transition to a zero carbon economy.

  3. How much longer must we wait for the our Government to take action FINALLY on all that affects climate change? You cannot ignore it any longer. Even farmers considered all this a “greenie” farce only 3 years ago. Now their livelihoods, & the lives of us and our world is totally threatened. I’m trying to concentrate on how it’s affecting Australia, but it’s hard to just stop there. We need the co-operation of the entire world, to save this world. Time is of the utmost essence. To insult us with false information about coal seam gas extraction & the horrifying impact it has on our land, rivers, oceans from obvious run-off , now well documented by scientist all over the world, our government & other world governments continue on the path of a terrible cataclysm. Through greed, ignorance over intelligence, countries like Australia & the USA continue to lead us to a terrible end.