LONDON – The U.K. Parliament declared a symbolic climate change emergency on Wednesday, backing a call by opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for “rapid and dramatic action” to protect the environment for generations to come.
The measure was passed as an opposition motion, using a procedure typically ignored by the ruling party, and has no direct consequences for policy.
But it is a nod to an increasing vocal activist movement particularly among young people in Europe, who have staged school strikes and civil disobedience campaigns to demand action.
Eleven days of protests by the Extinction Rebellion activist group caused major disruptions in central London in recent weeks, and Swedish schoolgirl campaigner Greta Thunberg addressed lawmakers on a high-profile visit.
The group set up camps that blocked off major roads in the capital, disrupted transport and targeted major institutions such as Goldman Sachs and Shell.
Corbyn told lawmakers Wednesday that they should listen to those “who have the most to lose” from climate change, noting that the younger generation is “ahead of the politicians on this, the most important issue of our time.”
“We have no time to waste. We are living in a climate crisis that will spiral dangerously out of control unless we take rapid and dramatic action now,” Corbyn told Parliament.
“Today, we have the opportunity to say, ‘We hear you.’ … By becoming the first parliament in the world to declare a climate emergency, we could, and I hope we do, set off a wave of action from parliaments and governments all around the world.” Environment Secretary Michael Gove, who met activists this week, disappointed the campaigners by avoiding the word “emergency” and referring instead to the situation as “grave.”
Extinction Rebellion welcomed Wednesday’s motion in a tweet: “This has seen (lawmakers) start to #TellTheTruth about the climate & ecological crisis. They must now halt biodiversity loss, go net #ZeroCarbon2025 & create a #CitizensAssembly.”
Separately, Thunberg tweeted: “Historic and very hopeful news. Now other nations must follow. And words must turn into immediate action.”
Rebecca Newsom, the head of politics for Greenpeace U.K., said in a statement that tackling climate change has long been delayed. “The best time to declare a climate emergency was 30 years ago; the second-best time is now,” she said
According to a poll taken after the week-and-a-half long high-profile protests by activists, a majority of Britons now believe that climate change could end the human race.
Following the protests 54 percent of adults agreed that climate change threatens our extinction as a species, the poll released Wednesday by market research company ComRes found, compared to just a quarter who disagreed.
However, only 22 percent of the 2,037 people surveyed said they supported the aims and tactics of Extinction Rebellion, with 32 percent in disagreement.
“While most of the public are agreed on the problem and its cause, the poll finds the public less enthusiastic about how Extinction Rebellion is bringing its message to the country,” ComRes Chairman Andrew Hawkins said.
“Its aims and tactics are far more likely to appeal to people under 25, so it is little surprise that the Group’s warning message of human extinction has less resonance with older age groups.”
Extinction Rebellion wants non-violent civil disobedience to force governments to cut carbon emissions and avert a climate crisis it says will bring starvation and social collapse.
The group has demanded the government declare a climate emergency and allocate resources to tackling the issue.
A majority of those surveyed said that they would forego at least one overseas trip a year for the sake of the climate, while fewer people agreed that they would be more willing to protest about higher fuel prices than climate change.
ComRes conducted the survey between April 26 and 28.