Author: Snigdha Sanghi,
3rd Year B.A. L.L.B.,
CHRIST ( Deemed to be University)
Snow in a desert, vanishing of islands and dwindling glaciers are serious signs in the climate which calls for urgent attention. Though the world may be divided with conflicting opinions, it is very significant for every country to come on a negotiating table and work seriously for seeking a solution so as to bring down greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere which is the root cause for the result of climate emergency. The reason for mobilising an act of this expanse is to prevent the chance of catastrophic effects as a consequence of the failure to mitigate climate change. The very idea of declaring climate as a state of emergency portrays the high-risk level which is posed at present, where response for the threat cannot be dealt with by normal process of policy or implementation of legislations but only through declaring an emergency due to the abnormal level of intensity. The paper analyses the meaning and scope of climate emergency along with the scale and level of risk and whether we are in a position to cause its mobilisation. This is sought with the view to curb consequences of climate change and in a way suggests to achieve better means where the state of environment can succeed in maintaining a balanced structure.

Declaring a state of emergency awakens the situation where the normal functioning of the society and the economy is suspended due to inadequacy in dealing with the risk posed.[1]The previous year has witnessed the declaration of climate emergency at a higher scale given the effect of how due to excessive utilization of resources global warming is no more than a burning concern causing climate change. The dire need for declaring climate emergency was seen by the drastic changes in the environment thereby causing ecological imbalance and leading to instability in the environment. Recently, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services has reported that, worldwide, the abundance of species has reduced by at least one-fifth, about a million species are under threat of extinction in the next few decades and 85% of wetlands have been lost.[2] At the contrast the rapid pace of increasing global warming raises further concerns towards the issue at hand.

The British Parliament became the world’s first to declare a climate emergency, something that’s largely considered as a symbolic move.[3]Various countries opted for a similar approach for a rather rapid change than the tedious methods which have already been sought in order to curtail the issue of climate change. The problem that arises is when declaring climate emergency is justified. As discussed on various incidents the key approaches that are to be considered is whether a risk exists and it poses a high threat and the consequences of the failure are unmanageable due to the time constraint on deciding an effective response. The difficulty in understanding is arriving at the accurate judgment of the required response to curb the high risk. Observing the threat posed at present the natural tendency to undertake the risk must be acknowledged while considering the disruptive nature of the situation which is being addressed.[4]

The underlying idea behind declaring climate emergency is to curb greenhouse gas emissions which is released through numerous factors resulting in depletion of the ozone layer thereby increasing the level of global warming. For this reason, Nations have declared climate emergency by setting targets in reduction of carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases. It was concluded by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that we need to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 and entirely by 2040 in order to prevent the most cataclysmic effects of climate change.[5] During the previous years although climate change had emerged no efforts were taken to resolve the issue but instead other things were perceived as more significant due to which it went on to be pushed back and queued. It has been estimated that if we do not engage in taking an initiative to look into the targets framed to be achieved by a specific year, we will cross over the carbon 425-450 ppm climate cliff and rapidly escalate to the near extinction atmospheric carbon tipping point level of 500 ppm. The condition has worsened to such a state where even if the emission commitments put forth at the Paris Agreement would surpass the target arrived at i.e. 1.5 °C warming and further hike up by 3° to 5°C in the near future with excessive addition to global warming.[6]

Rise in humidity levels and high temperature has made regions around the world inhabitable including Australia, Asia, Africa etc and for seeking a tolerable temperature, a large percentage of the population of the world including an estimated rate of 2 billion refugees[7]would be relocated to regions with higher altitude. But relocation involves large masses which would be a task considering the population of the world at present. It was reported by the IPCC that the cost incurred to an increase beyond the threshold of 1.5°C would beat $54 trillion[8]. Also, the cost of the uncontrolled climate change for 3.7°C of warming which we are facing today is approximately $550 trillion.[9]Though these are directions given that are complex but it has to be looked into to prevent the collapse of the world. This uncertain outcome could either lead towards a less probability of it occurring and may not be such bad of a situation as suggested or it might make the scenario much worse. It can be presumed that if collective action is not enabled to oust the threats, we are currently facing it would in all probability cause catastrophic impacts beyond repair making it difficult to survive on the planet and cause the risk of the collapse of civilisation.
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The declaration of climate emergency has been effectuated by various countries, but the prime question that
comes into picture is the meaning and scope of climate emergency. In this examination of what its meaning entails is of significance since declaring such a state of emergency would prove no use not knowing what it is, further answering the purpose for which it is declared as well as the extent of its operation. Comparing this situation to that of an emergency, such as national emergency, financial emergency or state emergency, declared in a country it is proclaimed in accordance to certain procedure and only under specific circumstances. For instance Article 352 of the Indian Constitution states national emergency where “if the President is satisfied that a grave emergency exists whereby the security of India or of any part of the territory thereof is threatened, whether by war or external aggression or armed rebellion, he may, by Proclamation, make a declaration to that effect in respect of the whole of India or of such part of the territory thereof as may be specified in the Proclamation”
[10]. In contrast to the meaning of climate emergency no such definition has been provided which specifically mentions the circumstances under which it is to be declared or enlists its factors, nor the regime after its declaration.

The backing of law maintains the viability of the definition and only under certain measures emergency is certified to be proclaimed. In case this situation does not exist, as presently faced, there might be chances where a state of emergency would be declared even if the condition does not demand for an emergency declaration. At present what has been perceived about climate emergency is that this declaration is a measure or piece of legislation initiated by the Central Government, State Legislatures, a board of supervisors or other governing bodies. The only procedure followed by the already declared emergencies by different nations were through the form of a petition put before authorities. It is also not clear about the basis on which it is admitted by the authorities. On admitting the petition, the resolution taken up by these authorities varies from country to country working towards reducing local impacts of climate change and setting new targets to reach the milestone of a carbon free environment.

Once nations have declared climate emergency the other issue that emerges is the consequences and obligations that come to light by doing so. Since there is no definite meaning within a statute like the others such as proclamation of national emergency, state or financial emergency, other than a definition worded in the dictionary, basing climate emergency declaration, compelling rapid change and encompassing distinct dimensions to curb the risk would serve no purpose as a result of not knowing the next step by declaring an emergency of this magnitude and would rather degrade the already limited resources which are on the verge of exhaustion due to over utilisation. Not being aware of the obligations arising out of declaring a state of emergency would render the action as inadequate and achieving the desired goal would be far from a dream.

While looking into the effects of proclaiming National emergency as per the Indian Constitution, it could be understood as to what the state of affairs would be post its declaration and the powers vested with specific bodies as well as the discharge of duties and limitations on powers conferred on authorities. The same situation does not exist as in the declaration of climate emergency. A clear-cut definition, either exclusive or inclusive in nature ensures the desired goal set to be achieved by mapping a path which would be in concurrence to the demands of the society to meet the end result as well as the objectives of declaring a state of emergency for the purpose of mitigating climate change.

Witnessing the catastrophic effects of the bushfire in Australia as a result of inadequate responsive measures to lessen the probability of the effects of climate change, we can understand the immediate need for a larger responsive measure. Climate change had made situations worse than the already exacerbated condition in south-eastern Australia’s forests and fields caused by the effect of the ravaging bushfires. Almost half a billion of animals were killed including few numbers of human beings destroying the expanse of flora and fauna.[11] Certain State and local administrations had declared climate emergency but this still calls for a mass movement by way of declaration of climate emergency not only by few states but majority of them. This bridges the gap by the Government’s lagging behaviour and slow response in noticing that the present threat can no longer be lowered through the efforts of a small section of the population. A 2008 Government commissioned report on climate had produced evidence from the past 30 years cautioning about the alterations in fire seasons where it will start earlier and last longer with an increase in the intensity by the changes in climate.[12]

Government playing the major role in decreasing drastic effects of climate change instigates the demand of a long-term solution and not short-term directions. Here, the Government can measure and maintain a stable level of greenhouse gas emissions by either deciding to reduce the consumption by banning the excessive emission of carbon dioxide and other things or increase the price of fuel so that there is less utilisation as a consequence of it being expensive. But the tendency of the Government to invest in new initiatives and technology focuses on a long-term solution thereby neglecting the need for urgent action to resolve the issue. There might be arguments that the Government does not run all the polluting industries including cements works, power stations and factories. The blame is prone to shift on industrialists, but the actual reason behind the picture is the consumption that drives markets in production of the quantity demanded. If a halt is brought in making demands of huge quantities that is consumed then production could be limited.

The likelihood of the risk crossing the path of intolerable level portrays the urgency in adopting a response not that of a normal nature but only through the guidance of an emergency response including abnormal levels of mobilisation. In analysing the assumptions which need to be examined is the bandwidth of the change required and how fast we need to bring about change. The 1.5°C report in 2018 by IPCC[13] concluded that there is a need to reduce carbon emissions by 45% by the year 2030[14] then cut it to zero by 2050. This additionally compares to the globally agreed Paris Climate targets which necessitates not a 45% reduction, but an increase in emissions by 2030.[15] But such action is argued as not being at par with the level of risk to be averted, demanding a solution at a shorter period of time. While considering the level of urgency necessary to alleviate the effects of climate change a judgment on the scale of impact that is acceptable has to be made. So, at present what can be inculcated to prevent drastic climate change are measures in parlance to expert advice and the present knowledge capacity.


The key indications that are to be looked into as to whether the threat or existing risk justifies an emergency as the response, firstly includes the scale of threat, that effects globally and has a negative impact on all people belonging to different countries. Secondly, such negative impact on the society by considering the length of time of the impact and lastly the high probability of unpredictable and rapid acceleration of the threat which further causes failure of attempts to control and prevent consequences. According to expert opinion there is a strong belief that there exists material risk in chaos and collapse of civilisation globally.[16] In the 2019 report of the WEF 2019 Global Risk Report[17], failure of climate mitigation and adaptation and extreme weather events were included in the top three risks having highest global effects. With this it can be understood about the magnitude of the risk and the dire need to prevent the issue at a relatively lesser time along with a strong response to mitigate it.

The primary concern to be addressed before suggesting the required additional response apart from the already existing laws is that to mobilise climate emergency, can we afford to do so. The issue at hand has raised several implications within the sphere of economic and social stability which could result in widespread geopolitical conflicts along with material risk of a global economic collapse. The influence of human behaviour in the subject of economic implications plays a vital role while considering the outcomes from different paths which is regarded as more challenging. But still there are several bases upon which a particular judgement could be arrived at. For instance, the analysis by IPCC has suggested that 1.5°C of warming would create an estimated economic cost of around $54 trillion[18] and at 3.7°C the cost would increase to $551 trillion[19] . The hike in the cost is equivalent to all the wealth in the world and it is calculated that we are currently on the path to 3°C – 5°C. With the current situation at hand which requires the attention of an abnormal level of urgency and action, due to the failure even after continuous efforts of various individuals and the implementation of laws, it is largely debated that after such efforts nothing has been achieved as sought, so the only manner of response is to declare a state of emergency.

When emergency is mobilised, it reacts with more investments towards new power generating capacity bringing in a huge wave of economic returns. Since there will be a shift to renewable power generation there would be a drastic decrease in air pollution. With its declaration it is seen as a step forward in the innovation of technologies at a higher scale delivering accessible supply of energy at lower costs, enhancing the concept of energy security. As this approach results in beneficial outcomes,[20] we have underestimated its potentiality in emergency mobilisation. In conclusion the consequences that could result from declaring a state of emergency would leave us with better energy supply at lower costs as well as a rapid improvement of health among people from cleaner air that provides for a safe and healthy environment to sustain themselves.

           There have been instances where it was stated that even if climate emergency is declared there must be collective action by the entire community. Collective effort guarantees the credibility of initiating the approach. If this does not concur to the idea of equivalent efforts by all individuals to curb the risk the whole point of declaring emergency would prove to be futile for the amount of time and limited resources invested to instigate the entire process. As per research by scientists, in order to stabilize concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere there must be a cut by at least 60% to achieve the end result and prevent long term chaos.[21] But the largest global emitters of carbon dioxide including China, United States, India, the EU where they account for 60% of emissions have time and again shown inability to follow what was perceived[22]. According to factual illustrations the withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement by the US portrays how even after repeated pressure of the consequences of climate change the country that contributes as one of the highest polluters in the world does not show any regard to the collective action taken by various nations to combat climate change as well as adapt to its effects by providing assistance to developing nations in resolving the same[23].

Also, not all developed countries are part of the Kyoto Protocol which seeks to reduce greenhouse gases emitted through anthropogenic activities. Climate change is a collective action issue par excellence.[24] The backing behind international cooperation is to address climate change and its disastrous aftermath and it is only through international assistance that the poorest section and the society will be able to acclimatize with future environmental conditions. As cited in Theory of International Politics, it was reaffirmed that “collective efforts are needed if common problems are to be solved or somehow managed” and “further stated that global problems can be solved by no nation sin
gly, only by a number of nations working together.”

Recently it was urged by environmental experts that stringent legislations need to be enacted in India to bring a shortfall in the high levels of emission of greenhouse gases. The pledged goal in the Paris Agreement was not backed by any implementation of a legislation to achieve the end result. It is seen that India has not brought any legislation that is comprehensive in nature encompassing all aspects to resolve the issue of climate change. So, unless policies are binding it becomes problematic to bring down carbon emissions at a rapid pace. The outdated domestic climate policies have failed to determine and address aspects for the purpose of it being implemented in the first place. The recent trends in India has led expert opinion to take a decision that declaring climate emergency is a more probable shift of approach than to seek guidance through legislations that have time and again been unsuccessful in mitigating the risk faced.

With the increase in temperature where the Arctic sea has passed beyond the tipping point, envisaging wide dimensions of measures to lessen the speed of the rapidly increasing level of carbon emissions in the atmosphere is no longer seen as adequate. Climate advocates have sought for declaring emergency with the view that by doing so this response is capable of resolving the issue in a shorter period of time and will be more efficient in solving the problem in a full-fledged manner. They are of the opinion that rapid and total transformation of global energy system is a major component as a solution to climate change.[26] For these reasons, declaring climate emergency is the final solution so as to enable in setting up a framework by addressing the risk which has led to catastrophic effects of the community especially the marginalised section of people.
The situation which requires majority attention as the evidence shows must be responded adequately due to the existential risk and widespread misery which could possibly occur from failure to complying to do so. The evidence mentioned above clearly establishes the scale and level of risk, scale of change required and the rate at which this has to be brought about. By this it is comprehensible that only a shift to the action through emergency could direct in addressing the risk that the current climate crisis presents to the society and humanity. With the rise in sea levels and water scarcity in different regions of the world, it has come to the knowledge of the people that if appropriate action is not taken to mitigate the issues pertaining to climate change, soon there will be no recourse available to restore the environment to a condition for not only sustaining present generation but future generations as well.

[1]Paul Gilding, Climate Emergency Defined,
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[2]Ananya Shivani, Insights Compilation May 2019, Scribd,
[3] id.

[4]  supra note 1.

[5] Caren G. Solomon and Regina C. LaRocque, Climate Change — A Health Emergency, The New England Journal Of Medicine, (Jan. 17,  2019), 

[6] Allen, M.R., O.P. Dube, Framing and Context. In: Global Warming of 1.5°C, 2018,

[7]Geisler, C & Currans, Impediments to Inland Resettlement Under Conditions of Accelerated Sea Level Rise, 66 Journal Of Land Use Policy, 322, (2017)

[8] United Nations Development Programme, Beyond income, beyond averages, beyond today: Inequalities in human development in the 21st century, 2019

[9] Warren, R, Risks associated with global warming 1.5°C or 2°C, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research Briefing Note, 2018, briefing_note_risks_warren_r1-1.pdf

[10] India Const. art. 352, cl. 1.

[11] Australia bushfire crisis: UNICEF offers help and support, UN News, (Jan. 6, 2020),
[12] Garnaut, R, The Garnaut Climate Change Review,

[13] supra note 3

[14] Baranzini, Andrea, The impact of possible climate catastrophes on global warming policy, International Nuclear Information System,

[15]Allen supra note 6

[16] Kurt M. Campbell, Jay Gulledge, The Age of Consequences: The Foreign Policy and National Security Implications of Global Climate Change,

[17] The Global Risks Report 2019 14th Edition, World Economic Forum, WEF_Global_Risks_Report_2019.pdf

[18] Allen supra note 6

[19] Warren, supra note 10.

[20] A New World – The geopolitics of the energy transformation, Global Commission on the Geopolitics of Energy Transformation,

[21] Paul G. Harris, Collective Action on Climate Change: The Logic of Regime Failure, 47 Nat. Resources J. 195 (2007).

[22] Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser, CO₂ and Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Our World In Data,

[23] Yong-Xiang Zhang, Qing-Chen Chao, The withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris Agreement and its impact on global climate change governance, 8 Advances in Climate Change Research 213, 214 (2017)

[24] Paul, supra note 23 at 196

[25] Kenneth N. Waltz, Theory Of International Politics 210 (McGraw-Hill. 1979)

[26] HODDER, P., & MARTIN, B, Climate Crisis? 44 The Politics of Emergency Framing, Economic and Political Weekly 53, 59 (2009).

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