Ideasroom

We must face climate emergency head-on

Declaring a climate emergency isn’t about pushing a particular political agenda, it is about getting our leaders to call a spade a spade, writes the University of Auckland's Quentin Atkinson

More than 50 of the country's top emerging researchers are calling on New Zealand politicians to declare a climate emergency and want others to join their call.

Their unequivocal appeal to government states:

The scientific consensus is that the world stands on the verge of unprecedented environmental and climate catastrophe for which we are little prepared, and which affords us only a few years for mitigating action. We, the undersigned, urge the New Zealand House of Representatives to declare a climate emergency, now.

The Government and New Zealanders need to listen to these warnings coming from across the scientific community.

Fifty-two signatories of the statement are current or former recipients of Rutherford Discovery Fellowships, a competitive award designed to attract and retain research leaders in New Zealand. These are researchers who have already won government recognition as leaders in their fields, and they are urging the Government to declare a climate emergency.

New Zealand climate action group Claxon has launched a website where others can show their support.

Twenty years ago, the threat of climate change was serious and the need for action was already clear. Today, all the evidence we have indicates an urgent need for action that is nothing short of an emergency.

This call to government should not be dismissed as political – it is bipartisan and based on an objective reading of the available science. This isn’t about pushing a particular political agenda, it is about getting our leaders to call a spade a spade.

Twenty years ago, the threat of climate change was serious and the need for action was already clear. Today, all the evidence we have indicates an urgent need for action that is nothing short of an emergency.

Our political leaders need to acknowledge this and send a clear signal around the country and the world that we will act now, rather than continue to prevaricate.

The initiative follows a climate emergency declaration by the UK government in May, and subsequent declarations by the governments of Ireland, Denmark, France, Canada and many city councils around New Zealand.

These declarations have been criticised as ‘merely symbolic’, but we must not underestimate the importance of symbolic acts. In the past New Zealand has taken a stand against apartheid and nuclear proliferation, symbolic acts that helped shape world history. The declaration of a climate emergency by other governments and NZ councils recognises the value of this, and our leaders in Wellington should too.

Such a declaration also serves to highlight the hypocrisy of ongoing government policies that are inconsistent with a climate emergency. This is exactly what has happened in the UK, where policies are now being scrutinised in the light of the climate emergency declaration. This is a good thing.

Of course, declaring a climate emergency does not in itself solve the challenge we face. We need a real Zero Carbon Act that lives up to its name. We need investment in low-carbon technologies and infrastructure. We need to stop subsidising fossil fuels. We need to change what we eat.

But to properly tackle these challenges, we also all need to acknowledge the grave severity and urgency of the problem at hand. Declaring a climate emergency forces our political leaders and ourselves to confront the climate crisis head on and commit to averting disaster.

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