Declaring A Climate Emergency

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In New Zealand and across the world, young people have been speaking out about the need to declare a climate emergency, in order to make significant change. Declaring a climate emergency would be a significant first step in ensuring that large corporations take responsibility for the damage they are causing, as well as in putting pressure on governments to make reducing our climate destruction a priority. Climate change is an issue that affects all individuals, but none more so than our youth, who will feel the effects far into the future. If the destruction continues at its current rate, it will mean a decrease in available resources, such as food and water; a lack of safe land to live in; rising ocean levels; extreme temperatures; and countless other issues that will change the way humans are able to live their day-to-day lives.

Currently, the way we view our climate crisis is by placing the blame on individuals. This adds to the idea that we are in control of what is happening to our planet; when in reality, the most important change can be made by pressuring corporations to accept responsibility. Our waste, diet, and consumption of single-use plastics such as straws are all said to be part of the irreversible impact, and while making small changes in these areas helps, it is the impact of the larger corporations that needs to be altered if we are to start seeing necessary large-scale solutions. Vegetarianism is one of the ways that change can be made by individuals and has become more popularized over the last few years. According to a Colmar Brunton survey, the percentage of individuals who are eating a mostly meat-free diet has increased from 4% in 2014 to 10% in 2018. However, despite this growth, carbon emissions have increased by 2.2% between 2017 and 2018 alone. Vegetarians adopt a plant-based diet for a variety of reasons — including stopping animal cruelty or for improvements in health — and one of the most important is the impact that farming has on our environment through its significant methane emissions. In order to reduce these emissions and make true change, it has to come from our farming industry as a whole, and not just from a few individuals. The idea is that with less desire for meat products, farming will have to become more limited. However, the blame is still not being put on farmers and is instead placed on the individuals who are often led to feel guilty for not following this dietary choice.

In 2017, the Carbon Majors Report came out and stated that just 100 companies were responsible for 71% of emissions; they included Shell, BP, and other fuel providers of both coal and petrol. In fact, while there are, of course, many companies involved, all of the highest affecting companies are fuel providers, from all over the world. The report also states that almost a third of emissions has come from investor-owned companies, while 59% has come from state-owned companies. Just 9% has come from private investment. Over half of global industrial emissions since 1988 can be traced to 25 corporate and state producers. This in turn shows the incredibly large impact that is being had by large industrial companies, compared to a much smaller impact had by individuals, or privately owned investments. The report was highly significant when it first came out (2017), as discussions around climate change were not yet as prominent as they are today. However, although these discussions have become more common in everyday conversation, as well as being addressed by policy makers, this report is seemingly being ignored. As mentioned above, the blame is incorrectly being placed on individuals, instead of our society as a whole taking responsibility for where the real damage is being made. Effects from the companies named in this report are countless. Over the last few years, we have seen an increase in natural disasters globally, including the commonality of bush fires from the increasing temperatures, floods from rising sea levels, and many more extreme weather events. Each of these has a significant impact on the livelihoods of the people who live in the affected areas; they are no longer safe, and many have lost their lives as a result. On top of this, resources are becoming more scarce. Water in particular is becoming increasingly limited, again affecting many people’s ability to safely provide for themselves. The lack of resources and the increasingly extreme weather conditions present many dangers, and it is likely that still more lives will be lost.

Currently, New Zealand is working on passing a Zero Carbon bill, which aims to create a framework in which the country is able to work towards the Paris climate agreement, and make significant steps towards reducing carbon emissions nationally. In creating the bill, many different public views have been taken into account, which means that there is still a high level of debate around what exactly the framework specified in the bill will be. Currently, it is being criticised for its lack of specificity, and the fact that there is no way to hold the government to the objectives that have been set. Dairy NZ, a company whose farming work accounts for 22% of carbon emissions in the country, has spoken out against the bill’s goals, believing that the target reductions are impossible to successfully reach by 2050. However, as the law is looking towards “targets,” rather than specific limitations, there is, again, no possibility of holding them to these goals. Like much of the current legislation that exists, this new bill will continue to hold individuals accountable for the negative environmental impacts our actions are having. There are hopes that if the bill does make more specific requests for change to be made, some of the larger companies will be targeted. However, if the discussion surrounding Dairy NZ is any indication, this vital change does not look likely. This bill is something that will affect everyday people, which is more important than the economic impacts it may have on certain corporations. Therefore, it is the needs of these people that must be taken into consideration as a priority. As the bill has not yet been passed, it is hoped that this feedback will be considered, and that significant changes will be made in the legislation.

Change needs to be made not only to save our planet, but to save us, the people who are living on it. There are many luxuries that we take for granted, that will no longer be accessible if we do not take action. At the rate we are producing these emissions, the planet will soon become impossible to safely live on. Declaring a climate emergency is the first necessary step towards making change.