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Explained: What is a climate emergency, which the New Zealand government may declare?

As prime minister, Jacinda Ardern has been vocal about climate change and last November, the parliament passed the Zero-Carbon Act, which commits New Zealand to zero carbon emissions by 2050 or sooner.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: November 29, 2020 10:01:50 am
In its ongoing online petition, Greenpeace New Zealand is urging the government to declare a climate emergency since people are “facing more extreme weather events, catastrophic loss of wildlife and a crisis over access to freshwater and food”.

New Zealand’s government will decide next week if a climate emergency should be declared in the country or not. The country’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern will introduce the motion in the parliament next week and if passed the move will be a symbolic announcement about the government’s commitment towards doing more for the climate and bringing climate change to the centre of policymaking.

Ardern’s Labour Party won nearly 49 per cent of the votes in the general elections last month, which was the biggest victory for her party in about 50 years. As prime minister, Ardern has been vocal about climate change and last November, the parliament passed the Zero-Carbon Act, which commits New Zealand to zero carbon emissions by 2050 or sooner.

What is the meaning of a climate emergency?

In its ongoing online petition, Greenpeace New Zealand is urging the government to declare a climate emergency since people are “facing more extreme weather events, catastrophic loss of wildlife and a crisis over access to freshwater and food”.

In 2019, the Oxford dictionaries declared “climate emergency” to be the word of the year, a word that reflects “the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of the passing year, and have lasting potential as a term of cultural significance”. It defines climate emergency as “a situation in which urgent action is required to reduce or halt climate change and avoid potentially irreversible environmental damage resulting from it”. 📣 Express Explained is now on Telegram

But even before the New Zealand government planned to declare a climate emergency, some of the regions in the country had already started declaring it since last year. Even so, such a declaration is only symbolic and does not have any legal weight because of which critics have said that such announcements don’t do enough and are, in fact, “hollow”.

New Zealand’s Climate Change minister James Shaw was quoted as saying in a press release on November 26 , “We are in the midst of a climate crisis that will impact on nearly every aspect of our lives and the type of planet our children will inherit from us. Declaring a climate emergency is a clear statement of the Government’s intent to address this crisis.”

He added, “Every part of Government will have an important role to play in this. And we know there is no time to waste. According to the world’s leading scientists we have just over nine years left to cut global warming emissions in half.”

Some of the countries that have declared a climate emergency in recent years include the UK, Portugal, Canada, France and, most recently, Japan.

Also in Explained | Delhi and other parts of north India are bracing for near cold wave conditions, here is why

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