UPDATE (Jan. 28, 2:29 p.m. PT) — Milwaukie has become the first city in Oregon to declare a climate emergency.
Mayor Mark Gamba and City Council members unanimously passed the resolution last week. Among other things, it speeds up by five years the city’s timeline for achieving the goals it previously adopted in its Climate Action Plan. The resolution also calls for the city to become carbon neutral by 2045.
Cities and countries all over the world have been declaring that they are confronting a climate crisis or emergency in their communities. Entire countries are taking similar steps. Fiji, an island nation on the front line of climate change, declared a climate crisis last year in the face of rising sea levels.
Gamba said he’s eager to see other cities join Milwaukie.
“We believe that if more cities who do have climate action plans, who are recognizing the problem are pushing for that, then the entities that control those things like the state … will start to make the changes they need to make,” Gamba said.
The push for local climate-emergency declarations comes as the effects of global warming are being felt across the globe.
The burning of coal, petroleum and other fossil fuels is putting more heat-trapping carbon into the atmosphere. Impacts include melting glaciers, greater wildfire dangers, prolonged droughts and more extreme storms.
In Milwaukie, the newly passed resolution will update the city’s 53-point Climate Action Plan every three years to ensure that the city’s strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are up to date. The resolution also calls on the city to work with residents and educate them about different ways they can reduce or eliminate greenhouse gas emissions in order to meet their new goals.
Last November, Oregon’s Hood River declared a climate crisis after major efforts by youth activists, who worked with city leaders to move up Hood River’s carbon free operations deadline by 15 years.
Portland was the first U.S city to develop a climate action plan in 1993. Since then it’s developed three more climate action plans.
During last December’s youth climate strike, Mayor Ted Wheeler said he is working with community organizers and youth leaders in finding ways to reduce the city’s carbon footprint and declare a climate emergency sometime this year.
Other cities like Eugene have adopted a climate recovery ordinance to help reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 50% of their 2010 levels by 2030.
But climate activists see a sharp difference between a city’s declaration of a climate “emergency” and a climate “crisis.”
Climate Mobilization’s Malik Russell said using the term climate emergency pushes governments to respond more quickly to the climate emergency.
“By using the term climate emergency, it not only paints a real picture of what is happening right now and the way we need to respond to it, but also connects to a greater global movement that are pushing governments, local and national … to respond to mobilize against the climate emergency,” Russell said.
Milwaukie’s Mayor Gamba also thinks the use of the term “emergency” can have greater effects in government.
“In political spheres, we tend to use emergency when we need to be able to do something that’s extraordinary. Like when it’s a state of emergency, different laws can take effects different rules are implemented,” Gamba said.
Last January, the climate mobilization movement only had 200 cities declare a climate emergency. This year, there are currently over 1,300 cities across the world in 26 countries that have made such a declaration. Russell said the United States is the country with the fastest-growing number of cities declaring a climate emergency.
Clarification: Jan. 28, 2020. An earlier version of this story did not make it clear that the climate action plan being pursued by Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and others would not be the city’s first. Portland adopted its initial climate action plan in 1993. Since then it’s developed three successive climate action plans.