‘So you’ve declared a Climate Emergency, now what?’ – event report

‘So you’ve declared a Climate Emergency, now what?’ – event report

Patrick Devine-Wright chairs the climate emergency meeting in May

Patrick Devine-Wright chairs the climate emergency meeting in May

On May 23rd our director, environmental social scientist Patrick Devine-Wright, chaired a public event that asked the above question at the University of Exeter. The University’s new Global Systems Institute organised the event, together with ECOE and Transition Exeter. As a result of this topic’s importance, the largest lecture theatre in the University – with another audience connecting by video from the University’s Cornwall campus in Penryn – was packed out. In line with this intense interest, there were arousing speeches, round table questions and answers, audience debate and voting. Climate scientists from the Nobel-prize winning United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shared billing with a youth representative from Fridays for Future.

Several themes arose from the debate. Firstly, strong interest emerged in the University hosting a series of future events on the Net Zero report submitted to the Government by a sub group of the Committee for Climate Change. Secondly, the audience asked for more practical advice on what we can do to use less carbon in our everyday lives. For example, one thing you could do is volunteer to help us! Thirdly, people were very interested in the  value of citizens assemblies, as argued for by Extinction Rebellion and adopted by Devon County Council. In conclusion, the meeting hoped that these assemblies could create a new type of politics that might better achieve the rapid, serious response required to address climate breakdown.

How the meeting voted

During the meeting, Patrick asked the audience the following questions, and the voting technology in the theatre recorded the results as follows:

Question Yes No No. of Votes
1.      Is climate change the most important emergency we face as a society? 86% 14% 266
2.      Will framing climate change as an emergency actually lead to action? 66% 34% 288
3.      Do you support the formation of a Citizens Assembly to address climate change? 92% 8% 270
4.      Should it be more expensive to buy things that contribute towards climate change? 91% 9% 257
5.      Do you think the Government should move support from fossil fuels to renewable energy? 99% 1% 285
6.      Which of the following should be subject to a carbon tax? (Choose one) 281
A – Air travel 55%
B – Car diesel and petrol 16%
C – Oil and gas domestic heating 3%
D – Meat products 23%
E – Dog Food 3%
Taking action

Looking beyond this specific event, much more is happening on this issue locally, regionally and nationally. For example, the government announced a national citizens’ assembly happening later in the year. Also, over 100 councils across the country have declared climate emergencies adopted 2030 net-zero emission targets.

And regionally, Devon County Council has set a 2050 target and moved forward in setting up a Climate Emergency Response Group with the input from multiple sectors. Across Devon, Community Energy groups, including ECOE, are looking for ways to play a practical role in enabling change, working with other Community Energy Groups and local authorities. In addition, the University of Exeter has declared an Environment and Climate Emergency. It has set up a review task group led by Professor Juliet Osborne to report back by 31st of October on how emissions can be reduced effectively and quickly.