The Gibraltar Parliament yesterday unanimously declared a climate emergency, in a symbolic gesture that signalled Gibraltar’s intention to put climate change and environmental protection at the top of the community’s agenda.
The motion, tabled by Environment Minister Dr John Cortes, is “a call to action” that seeks to engage the whole community alongside practical actions that the government might also take.
It reflects Gibraltar’s intention to join other countries around the world – Gibraltar is the second parliament after the House of Commons to declare a climate emergency – to champion efforts to reduce emissions in a bid to tackle climate change and encourage sustainability.
It comes as young people around the world, including here, put pressure on leaders to take urgent action to protect the planet for future generations.
‘Climate emergency’ is an internationally-recognised declaration being used by elected politicians around the world to publicly declare concern over the global impact of the changing climate, as well as a commitment to take urgent action and reduce greenhouse gases.
The motion includes a pledge to make Gibraltar carbon neutral by 2030 and reduce emissions by 50% by 2035.
Gibraltar will also work with other governments in the UK family and regional partners to determine and implement methods to limit global warming to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius, as well as prepare a “climate emergency plan” by the end of 2019.
Dr Cortes highlighted local efforts to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, encourage sustainable living and develop a “green economy” for the Rock’s future.
“This declaration must be seen as a recognition by the Parliament, as a representative of the people, of the crisis facing the earth,” he said.
“It is a call to environmental arms.”
“We need to question how we do things.”
“We need to change potential decisions that may be tempting economically in the short term, to those that make long term sustainable sense.”
“All of us here and all of us out there need to do this. And not just be eating less meat and switching off lights – but that too.”
“Those of us who make and influence policy, in public and private sectors, need to think carefully each and every time.”
“And to next time do something different from what we would have done last time.”
The motion was backed by the opposition parties, although the GSD had initially intended to abstain over concerns about some of the language in the motion – referring to LNG – being politically biased.
But a conciliatory amendment proposed by GSD MP Daniel Feetham was later accepted by the government, as parliament acknowledged the importance of the motion for the long-term interests of this community and the wider world.
Likewise independent MP Marlene Hassan Nahon said she had reservations about the motion and said the pace of development in Gibraltar made it “almost impossible” to believe the government’s commitment to sustainable growth.
Even so, she backed the motion given the wide-ranging implications that underpinned it.
There was recognition too that the aims set out in the motion would require the community as a whole to reflect on its behaviour and make sacrifices where necessary.
Transport Minister Paul Balban, who has championed green forms of transport and initiatives to reduce vehicle use, said it was incumbent on each individual to take steps to reduce reliance on cars and motorbikes, even electric ones.
“This is our reality,” he said of the climate change crisis. “This is our challenge.”
GSD MP Lawrence Llamas also highlighted the fact that difficult decisions lay ahead, adding that it was important for politicians to work together and present a united front.
“Let’s not talk about leadership and foresight, let’s not congratulate ourselves,” he said.
“Let’s take a long hard look at where we are, what we have to do and work together to do it.”
“Let’s achieve those targets that are being established in this motion in a carefully planned and effective way and above all, let’s have the courage to admit we have failed thus far and must do better, because our planet, our culture and future generations depend on it.”
Chief Minister Fabian Picardo acknowledged that message but stressed too that Gibraltar on its own could not address the global climate change problem, and that any steps taken must be proportionate to a community that operated as an island economy.
“There is a balance to be achieved in order to get this right,” he said.
The declaration of a climate emergency by the Gibraltar Parliament comes just two days after the House of Commons did the same in the UK, the first two parliaments to do so in the world.
The move was welcomed by the Environmental Safety Group, which has long championed urgent action on this issue.
“This is an important symbolic step of unity that we support and hopefully a sign of the future co-operation needed for the implementation of an action plan,” a spokesman for the ESG said.