The SNP recently called a ‘climate emergency’ at a recent conference, with a range of policies that they aim to transform the country with. An example being a policy to make Scotland carbon neutral by 2050. As unprecedented for Scotland as this is, a climate emergency has been called before in countries were little real action has been shown to be taken. Scotland may fall into this trap.
Calling a climate emergency is a huge step for any country to take, and there have been examples where this has led to the downfall of those who have called it.
The former Australian Prime Minister, Kevin McRudd, won the 2007 election on a manifesto in which he called the current environmental situation a climate emergency, and unveiled major plans for Australia. His election was touted as the world’s first ‘climate change election’. He claimed that ‘climate change constituted a threat to security, both at a national and international level’ .
Six months later, he had been replaced by his deputy who publicly stated he would not be continuing with the central components of McRudd’s plans. Time has shown that the majority of his policies failed to get through, and Australia recently pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement. His securitizing moves proved ultimately unsuccessful. Although he had popular support for his proposals, he failed to gain public approval for even his most mainstream proposals passed.
Countries where climate change is at the forefront of daily life; in Chad, Sudan, the Republic of Palau and the Republic of Kiribati, have also struggled to highlight the gravity of their fight against climate change acknowledged.
In the North of Africa, Chad has been stated as the country ‘most vulnerable to climate change’ in the world, and is facing a shrinking Lake Chad which is exacerbating tensions as it is a vital water source for many. The escalating humanitarian situation in Darfur, Sudan has been called the ‘first climate change conflict in the world’ with thousands at risk.
In the Small Island Pacific Developing States, the Republic of Palau, the sea level has ‘risen two or three times higher than anywhere in the world’. In the Republic of Kiribati, The World Health Organization, acting with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate change, stated that ‘Kiribati is one of the world’s most vulnerable nations to climate change’.
These countries have consistently called for a climate change emergency to be taken seriously by the UN Security Council. This has yet to materialize. There have been securitizing speech which is similar to that of the past Australian President from the UN Security Council, but there has yet to be a binding resolution for any of the countries worst affected by climate change.
The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) reported that during a 2018 UN Security Council debate on the issue, while speakers agreed that climate change and its impact pose serious threats, they disagreed over ‘the degree to which the Security Council has a responsibility to address climate change’. This highlights that climate change is still not regarded as seriously as the traditional security threats usually resolved in the UN Security Council.
There is a clearly a worrying trend among both developed and developing countries of a widening gap between public perception of climate change and elite actions.
Scotland, although a world leader in mitigating against climate change, may fall victim to a similar fate. Ambitious, transformative climate change policies have been shown not to have been passed by the public and criticised and dismissed by opposing elites in developed countries such as Australia. It has also been shown that in countries where climate change is at its most devastating, there has still been a reluctance by international agencies such as the UN Security Council to provide support. Time will tell whether the SNP can deliver the policies under their climate change emergency that they have promised.