How Countries Differ in Their Commitment to the Climate Crisis

Oxford Word of the Year 2019: CLIMATE EMERGENCY

A Climate Emergency is “a situation in which urgent action is required to reduce or halt climate change and avoid potentially irreversible environmental damage resulting from it.” A climate emergency declaration is an action taken by governments and scientists. “The announcement of this word  as word of the year in 2019 comes after a year of heightened urgency over the climate crisis, with global youth climate strikes, massive civil disobedience and after an alarming report from an international body of scientists, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). “The climate crisis is becoming increasingly urgent and the latest declaration from Oxford Dictionaries reflects this urgency, as well as a growing public consciousness over the impacts of climate change,” said Tracey Ann Ritchie, vice president of programs and partnerships at Earth Day Network. Oxford’s data showed that the use of “climate emergency” increased 100-fold (10,796%) over the course of the year.”

What Countries have Declared a Climate Emergency

This map shows countries where a climate emergency has been declared, either for the entire country (dark blue) or only for some subdivisions (light blue), as of October 2019.

As of December 2020, 33 countries out of 197 have declared a climate emergency, and 1800 local governments, have done so as well. The countries who have declared an emergency are most of the European countries, as well as South Korea, Japan, New Zealand, Argentina, the Maldives, Bangladesh and Canada.

A scientific report for Environment and Climate Change Canada found that Canada is warming up at twice the rate of the rest of the world and that the warming effect is “effectively irreversible.” More than 40 scientists worked on the report. They said that Canadians will end up with 10 times as many deadly heat waves and twice as many extreme rainstorms if nothing is done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As a result the Government of Canada voted and declared a Climate Emergency in April 2019. The motion described climate change as a “real and urgent crisis, driven by human activity, that impacts the environment, biodiversity, Canadians’ health and the Canadian economy.”

“Once a government makes a declaration, the next step for the declaring government is to set priorities to mitigate climate change, prior to ultimately entering a state of emergency or equivalent. In declaring a climate emergency, a government admits that climate change (or global warming) exists and that the measures taken up to this point are not enough to limit the changes brought by it. The decision stresses the need for the government and administration to devise measures that try and stop human-caused global warming.”

Photo credit Lisa

Oxford Word of the Year 2016 CARBON NEUTRAL

Out of 197 countries in the world, 113 have pledged to be carbon neutral by 2050. This means that 50 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product, and about 50 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions, are now covered by a net-zero commitment according to the U.N. Only about 9 countries have actually set in law this commitment: Sweden, UK, France, Denmark, Hungary, New Zealand, China, Japan and South Korea.

Two countries are already carbon neutral, Bhutan and Suriname. Next leading the way towards improvement is New Zealand who promises its public sector will be carbon neutral  by the year 2025. The next most ambitious countries are Ethiopia by 2030, Finland by 2035, Iceland and Austria by 2040, Sweden and Scotland by 2045. Most of the other pledging countries have plans to be carbon neutral by 2050 and this includes Canada.  Two countries have pledged carbon neutrality by  2060 (10 years past the expected deadline) China and Brazil. 


In the case of Canada this commitment is still in the “discussion phase”. On September 23, 2020, the federal government pledged to legislate its goal of making Canada carbon neutral by 2050. We find it interesting that Canada has gone so far as to declare a climate emergency, but has not yet set in law action to achieve carbon neutrality. In our December 3rd blog we outlined the details of Canada’s “Building Back Better” action plan that was announced in the fall from the Speech from the Throne. It is an ambitious plan, but still we look for more concrete action.  From “Build Back Better” Lucy is encouraged especially about the concrete action now being taken to support electric vehicles.

What About USA, Australia and India

A few notable countries have not joined in the world vision with the Paris Accord: USA, Australia and India.

In the USA the states of New York and California have committed to carbon neutrality by 2050. President Elect Joe Biden has also made this commitment and plans to join again the Paris Accord. It seems that Justin Trudeau is eager to work with Democratic Leader Joe Biden, and this transition cannot come soon enough! Trudeau tweeted “We’ve worked with each other before, and we’re ready to pick up on that work and tackle the challenges and opportunities facing our two countries — including climate change and COVID-19.”

In an article by Reuters, Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison says “Australia will set its own policies”. He is not following suit setting goals to be carbon neutral as have his neighbours Japan, South Korea and China even though most of Australia’s exports of Liquid Natural Gas, Iron Ore and Coal are to these countries. “If there is a positive, it’s that Australia’s resource companies are likely to embrace a carbon-neutral future, even if it is without support from the federal government.” Also 4 states in Australia have committed to being carbon neutral by 2050.”

In the case of India, the third largest emitter of GHGs, setting such a goal of being carbon neutral by 2050 is very challenging as this is still a developing country. This Bloomberg report goes into the details of the GHG challenges facing this country:

Electric Vehicles Timeline in Canada

In the budget speech Canada pledges to build on current investments in zero-emission vehicles infrastructure by providing an additional $150 million over the next 3 years to help ensure that charging and refuelling stations are available and conveniently located where and when they are needed. Canada projects we will have 10% EV by 2025, 30% by 2030 and 100% by 2040 in line with a pledge already made in B.C. Recent data from Transport Canada indicates the country is already falling behind on its timeline since not enough is being done to incentivize and educate consumers. In line with California, Quebec is banning a sale of new gas run vehicles by 2035.

Book Suggestion

The Arctic ice is receding each year, but just as irreplaceable is the culture, the wisdom that has allowed the Inuit to thrive in the Far North for so long. And it’s not just the Arctic. The whole world is changing in dangerous, unpredictable ways. Sheila Watt-Cloutier has devoted her life to protecting what is threatened and nurturing what has been wounded. In this culmination of Watt-Cloutier’s regional, national, and international work over the last twenty-five years, The Right to Be Cold explores the parallels between safeguarding the Arctic and the survival of Inuit culture, of which her own background is such an extraordinary example. This is a human story of resilience, commitment, and survival told from the unique vantage point of an Inuk woman who, in spite of many obstacles, rose from humble beginnings in the Arctic to become one of the most influential and decorated environmental, cultural, and human rights advocates in the world.

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