DANICA CREAHAN WRITES — On Wednesday, Dec. 2, New Zealand’s government symbolically declared climate change an emergency through a motion ​tabled in parliament which recognized “the devastating impact that volatile and extreme weather will have on New Zealand and the wellbeing of New Zealanders, on our primary industries, water availability, and public health through flooding, sea-level rise, and wildfire.”

New Zealand has joined 32 other nations who have made similar declarations. On top of this declaration, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern also promised to make its public sector carbon neutral by 2025, meaning that government agencies need to measure, report and offset carbon emissions. Prime Minister Ardern made the declaration via a powerful speech on the parliament floor, stating that, “This is a declaration based on science.” and one meant to instill hope in future generations.

“This declaration is an acknowledgment of the next generation. An acknowledgment of the burden that they will carry if we do not get this right and do not take action now,” she said. “It is up to us to make sure we demonstrate a plan for action, and a reason for hope.”

The motion also calls for the recognition of the progress New Zealand has made through signing the Paris Agreement and passing ​the Zero Carbon Act 2019​, which makes New Zealand one of few countries to have a zero-emissions goal enshrined in law.

The U.K. was the first national government to officially declare climate change an emergency back in May of 2019, on the heels of the hottest decade ever recorded in history. Then in November of 2019, more than ​11,000 scientists​ jointly declared that Earth is “clearly and unequivocally” facing a climate emergency. Oxford Dictionaries made “climate-emergency” its word of the year​. New Zealand made their declaration four years after Australia declared the first local climate change emergency in 2016.

The largest bloc to declare climate change an emergency has been the EU, but that could soon change as President-Elect Joe Biden takes office. Biden has often ​publicly referred​ to climate change as an emergency, but now many environmentalists are pushing him to formally declare it one after he takes office this coming January.

Despite New Zealand lapping the U.S. in symbolic declarations and legislation that lays out zero-emissions plans, experts and critics have noted that New Zealand’s efforts were long overdue. University of Canterbury political science professor, Bronwyn Hayward, spoke to ​The Guardian​ concerning this matter.

“The irony is, even under [President] Trump, the US is going to have made better per-capita reductions than we have,” said Hayward.

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