Abstract: Near 1,500 governments worldwide, including over 1,000 local governments, have declared a climate emergency. Such declarations constitute a response to the growing visibility of social movements in international politics as well as the growing role of cities in climate governance. Framing climate change as an emergency, however, can bring difficulties in both the identification of the most appropriate measures to adopt and the effectiveness of those measures in the long run. We use textual analysis to examine the motivations and intended outcomes of 300 declarations endorsed by local governments. The analysis demonstrates that political positioning, previous experience of environmental action within local government, and pressure from civil society are the most common motivations for declaring a climate emergency at the local level. The declarations constitute symbolic gestures highlighting the urgency of the climate challenge, but they do not translate into radically different responses to the climate change challenge. The most commonly intended impacts are increasing citizens’ awareness of climate change and establishing mechanisms to influence future planning and infrastructure decisions. However, the declarations are adopted to emphasize the increasing role cities are taking on, situating local governments as crucial agents bridging global and local action agendas.