As displayed in the body of this report, the impacts of global warming and climate change are occurring at an alarming rate around the world, as well as right here in the Lehigh Valley. The science is conclusive: we are experiencing a climate emergency. The slow and sometimes subtle impacts of a changing climate do not neatly fit into the common notion of an emergency as an immediate event, usually unpredictable, with a clear beginning and end. We need to rethink this and include the long-term threat posed by climate change. It is past time to take a serious look at the government’s responsibility to decrease carbon emissions and prepare to adapt to the threats posed by global warming. Protecting the community is one of the most basic responsibilities of local government and certainly includes responding to threats and vulnerabilities resulting from climate change.
A Climate Emergency Declaration recognizes the threat of climate change and the necessity for local governments to outline their goals to mobilize against this crisis and send the message to the public that this is an issue of great concern. To successfully address the scope of the climate crisis, the declaration should reflect a commitment to a rapid shift to carbon neutrality — and to incorporate the vulnerabilities of marginalized communities. Additionally, officials need to set ambitious intermediate and long term goals and insist on accountability and progress.
The declaration should establish the situation that calls for an emergency response. This includes an overview of human caused climate change and the local impacts specific to the Lehigh Valley. Here are some key points to include:
- The Paris Agreement of April 22, 2016 gained the support of 195 nations which recognize the urgent need to address the climate situation and to limit warming to 1.5°C.
- The global temperature has already increased by about 1°C, and the persistence of CO2 in the atmosphere means warming will continue, and it will trigger positive feedback loops that will create even more global warming.
- Significant warming is predicted in the Lehigh Valley, along with increased flood and severe weather risk.
- Climate change impacts disproportionately impact marginalized communities.
- A Climate Emergency Declaration serves as more than simply a call to action; it is a roadmap for action by a municipality. Bold actions and goals should be laid out in the second half of the resolution. The resolution should touch upon all of the following topics:
- A commitment for every governmental department to evaluate contributions to GHG emissions within the department and to produce a climate action plan to reduce these sources.
- Recognition of the municipality’s responsibility to protect its community, including the threats and vulnerabilities resulting from climate change and adopting policies to mitigate and respond to these impending issues.
- A strong commitment to community outreach to educate and incorporate input from all segments of the population.
- Goals and timelines — specific to the community — with a structure for maintaining accountability and intermediate goals for emissions reduction and other major changes to make goals more manageable and ensure a just transition.
Links to Comprehensive Climate Emergency Declarations
- Austin TX (adopted 8 August 2019)
- Boulder CO (adopted 23 July 2019 by both the County & City of Boulder)
- Kalamazoo MI (adopted 22 October 2019)
- Longmont CO (adopted 8 October 2019)
(Copy of the resolution included in PDF..)
- Santa Cruz CA (adopted 27 November 2018)
- University of California (statewide) & California State University (and other colleges and university throughout the US and the world)
- Vancouver BC (Canada) (adopted 29 April 2019)