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 represents a nod to an increasing vocal activist movement particularly among young people, who have staged school strikes and civil disobedience campaigns to demand action. Activists from the group Extinction Rebellion launched 11 days of protests that paralysed central London in recent weeks, and Swedish schoolgirl campaigner Greta Thunberg addressed lawmakers on a high profile visit.
In Parliament, Mr Corbyn told lawmakers they should listen to those “who have the most to lose” from climate change.
He described the younger generation as being “ahead of the politicians on this, the most important issue of our time”.
He said: “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.
“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”, referring instead to the situation as “grave”.
The result was achieved after Theresa May decided not to whip her MPs against Labour’s motion, instead encouraging them to be out campaigning ahead of the local elections tomorrow, and comes after World Earth Day earlier this month.
A tweet from Extinction Rebellion welcomed Wednesday’s motion: “This has seen lawmakers start to TellTheTruth about the climate & ecological crisis.
“They must now halt biodiversity loss, go net ZeroCarbon2025 & create a CitizensAssembly.”
Rebecca Newsom, head of Politics for Greenpeace UK, said in a statement that tackling climate change had long been delayed.
“The best time to declare a climate emergency was 30 years ago; the second best time is now.”
Commenting on the declaration of climate and environment emergency, Gareth Redmond-King, head of Climate Change at World Wide Fund for Nature UK said: “The problem is, we’ve been acting as if we have time.
“Today, Parliament has made a strong statement by recognising we have to stop fiddling while Rome burns.
“We can be the generation that stops a climate and environment emergency from becoming a catastrophe.
“But to do that, we need to back today’s resolution with real, legally binding commitments and rapid action to end our carbon emissions and restore nature as soon as possible.
“The Government must now follow Parliament’s lead and show global leadership in the fight for our world before it’s too late.”
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