Motivations and Intended Outcomes in Local Governments' Declarations of Climate Emergency

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-2463

Article | Open Access

Motivations and Intended Outcomes in Local Governments' Declarations of Climate Emergency


  • Xira Ruiz-Campillo Department of International Relations and Global History, Complutense University of Madrid, Spain
  • Vanesa Castán Broto Urban Institute, Interdisciplinary Centre for the Social Sciences, University of Sheffield, UK
  • Linda Westman Urban Institute, Interdisciplinary Centre for the Social Sciences, University of Sheffield, UK


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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.

Keywords:  cities; climate change; climate emergency; emergency declarations; local governments; performative acts; politics

Published:   28 April 2021


DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/pag.v9i2.3755


© Xira Ruiz-Campillo, Vanesa Castán Broto, Linda Westman. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.