Worldwide, more and more cities and communities are declaring a state of climate emergency, with the aim to reduce emissions on a local level. Several hundred local governments including cities like San Francisco, London and Vancouver have already done so. The city of Basel in Switzerland and Konstanz in Germany have spearheaded the development in their respective countries. What is behind this development and what are the impacts on international climate protection?

The first cities started declaring climate emergency a year ago and since then, the phenomenon has progressed into a global movement. According to the Australia-based Climate Emergency Declaration campaign, more than 690 public administrations in 15 countries have already declared a climate emergency for their respective cities. In total, more than 123 million people live in these cities and communities.

“There is not yet an exact definition of the term climate emergency or a common understanding of the implications for the people affected,” explains First Climate’s Dr. Harald Diaz-Bone, who is responsible for the development of climate emergency plans for municipalities. “However, a common feature of many municipal climate emergency plans, is the goal of achieving climate neutrality by 2030. This is very ambitious” the expert explains, “And much more ambitious than most national-level climate targets.”

„A state-of-the-art climate emergency plan helps local governments prevent climate change through urgent action, prepare for its consequences and recover from its effects”

Dr. Harald Diaz-Bone, Head, Climate Policy and Finance

The first step is therefore to develop measures to reduce or compensate for unavoidable emissions in the short term. Secondly, a plan for local adaptation to unavoidable climate change impacts should be developed. Finally, the damage caused by climate change should be assessed and addressed. “This is a challenging task on the local level for many private and public stakeholders,” says Diaz-Bone.

Contrary to what the term may suggest, declaring climate emergency does not determine a state of emergency in a legal sense, which would entail the application of national emergency laws, as would be the case in a military crisis or acute disaster situations. Instead, the declaration of climate emergency is a demonstration of self-commitment, with which municipalities make climate protection a priority topic in political decision making.

Harald Diaz-Bone strongly opposes allegations that the declaration of climate emergency could be a matter of lip service without any real consequences. As he explains, “Beyond doubt, Fridays for Future and other social movements have helped to spark the widespread declaration of climate emergency on a local level. Communities are sending a clear signal that postulations for genuine and urgent climate action are taken seriously by local administrative bodies. Municipalities now have the opportunity to take on a real pioneering role in climate protection and, by decisive action, to initiate a bottom-up process that contributes to reaching the much-needed state of carbon neutrality.”


Dr. Harald Diaz-Bone
Head, Climate Policy and Finance
Phone: + 41 (0) 44 298 2800