Slow Emergency – Urgent Action? Exploring the role of municipal climate emergency statements in Sweden

University essay from Lunds universitet/Internationella miljöinstitutet

Abstract: In recent years, more than 2000 jurisdictions worldwide have declared a climate emergency, which covers over 1 billion people. While such declarations have been found to have the potential to spark transformative climate action, the scholarly knowledge of this emerging phenomenon remains limited and there is much disagreement about the merits and effects of climate emergency framings. Moreover, no studies have been conducted on the topic from a Swedish perspective. This study addresses this research gap by exploring the ‘climate emergency statements’ issued by the Swedish cities of Lund, Malmö, and Kalmar. Specifically, the study focuses on the political implications of the statements, and the extent to which the climate strategies of the three municipalities correspond to what is considered a climate emergency mode. To gather data, 14 semi-structured interviews with relevant local actors were conducted, as well as a review of climate strategy documents of the municipalities. The findings indicate that the political implications of the climate emergency statements are perceived to be rather limited. However, it appears the statements, at least to some extent, have empowered the climate movement, and invited reflections on the capacity of municipalities to act on the climate crisis. Moreover, the document review suggests that the cities exhibit – at least implicitly – most of the suggested key attributes of a climate emergency mode. However, there seems to be a lack of prioritization of climate issues in the municipal strategies, and a perceived gap between stated goals and concrete action. Thus, rather than driving transformative change per se, this study suggests that the climate emergency statements shine light on challenging aspects of municipal climate action – aspects that arguably need to be considered in a ‘climate emergency’. The study concludes that if symbolic acts such as the statements are to assist transformative change, they must be coupled with political and practical action.

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