Australia’s Climate Emergency Declaration Campaign

On December 5th, 2016, the City of Darebin, a local government in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, made history by becoming the first representative organization to declare a climate emergency. This bold move paved the way for an unprecedented wave of action across Australia, with 104 local governments following suit and declaring a climate emergency. These declarations collectively represent a significant population of over 9.9 million Australians, highlighting the widespread recognition of the urgent need to address the climate crisis at the local level.

The Climate Emergency Declaration (CED) campaign has transcended national boundaries and gained international momentum. More than 2,100 councils worldwide have signed a declaration, 40 nations have at least one climate emergency declaration in place, and 18 nations (plus the EU) have signed a CED, underscoring the global impact of this campaign. The CED campaign’s pioneering step in 2016 sparked a powerful movement that resonated with local governments and communities worldwide. This collective effort, encompassing thousands of councils and numerous nations, enabled disparate organisations to publicly acknowledge the growing recognition of the climate emergency and formalise policies needed for immediate and unified action to mitigate its devastating consequences.

Figure 1: Current declarations as of 20th May 2023 (source CEDAMIA map)

Development of the campaign

The emergence of the Climate Emergency Declaration in Australia in 2016 was a direct response to the prevailing context of the time. In early 2016, a significant increase in global temperatures was recorded, reaching 1.57 degrees above the baseline of 1880-1909 temperatures. The Australian government had been embroiled in continuous debates perpetuating climate denialism and apathy, leaving many activists frustrated with the lack of action. These individuals sought to create a platform through which the public could demand climate action outside the inertia of the federal government. Thus, in early 2016, a dedicated team of campaigners developed the Climate Emergency Declaration campaign.

The primary objective of this campaign was to compel governments to acknowledge a climate emergency formally. Such a declaration was seen as a catalyst for policy changes and the allocation of funds to facilitate swift climate action. Along with the campaign, the team established the Climate Emergency Declaration and Mobilisation in Action (CEDAMIA) website ( This platform aimed to engage all levels of government and promote the development of Climate Emergency Action Plans by 2017. As a result of its versatility, easy adoption by other groups, well-developed resources, and the presence of a global CED database and maps, the campaign gained significant traction and went viral in 2018.

Over the years, the campaign has fostered collaborations with various groups, including Council Action in the Climate Emergency (CACE) (, specifically focusing on local council declarations. Another valuable resource for the campaign is the Climate Emergency Declaration website (, which serves as a repository of resources and connects different organizations engaged in the campaign.

Elements influencing campaign success

One element linked to the campaign’s success was enabling other groups to sign on to the campaign and lead local efforts at all levels of government themselves. As a result, this has built a distributed campaign structure where activists can participate as little or much as possible.  Furthermore, this campaign structure allows the continual formation of new networks and alliances advocating for the campaign goal. Examples of the success of this approach can be found in the number of groups actively working on the campaign, including:

Campaign and Policy Effectiveness

The campaign aimed to go beyond formal declarations of a climate emergency and emphasized implementing subsequent Climate Emergency Action Plans. While some governments have limited their actions to symbolic declarations, many others have taken concrete steps toward addressing the climate emergency. CEDAMIA, for instance, highlights that developing action plans can take 1-2 years due to extensive consultation, analysis, and drafting and reviewing strategies before implementation. However, certain Councils have exemplified a more expeditious approach to action. For instance, the Port Hope Municipal Council declared a climate emergency in December 2022, announced plans to develop an action plan in 2023, and immediately directed staff to identify three priority actions to be adopted within 60 days.[1]

This exemplary policy provides a range of metrics to showcase its success. Notably, 18 national governments have made declarations, including the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets)(Scotland) Act passed on September 25, 2019, along with declarations by the Welsh Government and the Parliament of the United Kingdom on September 26, 2019. By 2020, 308 of 408 local authorities had declared a climate emergency in the UK. Moreover, the impact of the declaration has extended beyond government legislation. Pope Francis declared a climate emergency in June 2019,[2], and July 2019, 7,000 higher and further education institutions from six continents announced their declaration of a Climate Emergency, accompanied by a three-point plan.[3] In 2021, an article signed by 11,258 scientists from 153 countries was published in BioScience.[4] Additionally, in November 2019, the term “climate emergency” was named the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year.[5]

Criticisms of the CED Policy and Campaign

The effectiveness of CED outcomes has been subject to criticism, primarily centered around whether these declarations translate into concrete action. One notable example is the UK Declaration, which lacked any binding influence on the UK government.[6]  Activists argue that these declarations have served as symbolic gestures in numerous instances, failing to produce significant changes in subsequent policies or behaviors.[7] Furthermore, some critics have raised concerns regarding using the term “emergency”[8] despite the abundance of scientific evidence supporting the notion of an imminent environmental collapse.

Nevertheless, it is crucial to consider the broader context within which the CED campaign emerged. Even purely symbolic declarations endorsing the scientific consensus on climate change and rejecting climate denialism have played a vital role in helping countries like Australia overcome entrenched vested interests. Such declarations have paved the way for meaningful discussions and actions pertaining to climate change. By setting new standards for climate change language, these tens of thousands of declarations may also potentially spur action in and of themselves. For instance, the UK Parliament’s declaration in 2019 was followed by a commitment to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, just one month later. Furthermore, many declarations have been accompanied by measurable reductions in emissions. For example, the Queenscliffe Borough Council achieved a remarkable 73% reduction in emissions after their CED, while four other Australian Councils collectively reduced 26,406 tonnes of CO2e in 2022.[9]

Despite the criticisms, it is evident that CEDs have played a significant role in shaping the discourse surrounding climate change and initiating actions to combat it. While challenges remain, these declarations have demonstrated their potential to drive meaningful change and inspire measurable progress toward a more sustainable future.

CEDAMIA contact:

Margaret Hender (co-founder),

This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard Australia Country Manager Robyn Gulliver












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