The Oxford English Dictionary has just awarded its word of the year: climate emergency. The rise of this term has been explosive throughout 2019. By September, it was 100 times more commonly used than a year before. While the word emergency was always common, it was generally associated with words like health, hospitals or family emergencies. But in 2019, the term climate emergency was three times as common as health emergency, the second most used term including the word emergency.
This year, heightened public awareness of climate science and the myriad implications for communities around the world has generated enormous discussion of what the UN Secretary-General has called ‘the defining issue of our time’.
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Unprecedented heat and fires
This choice seems only natural after this year full of emergencies. Unprecented wildfires have been raging all over the world. Australia is experiencing one of the worst wave of wildfires in history right now. The world has already heated up by 1°C in the last century. This endangers our food production and creates dead zones in the ocean without oxygen. Experts say that a global overheating of more than 1.5°C would be catastrophical. So, it is more than appropiate so talk about an emergency.
Paris is already forgotten
Almost all countries in the world signed the Paris climate agreement in 2015, which commits to the 1.5°C goal. Four years later, there are only a handful of countries, which are actually on course to stay within the necessary greenhouse gas emissions. Several parliaments around the world have reacted to this by declaring a climate emergency. This includes the European Union parliaments, Scotland, the UK, Portugal, Canada, France, and Argentina as well as 1200 local governments around the world. Financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank are also hopping on the train comitting to use their resources more climate-friendly. Even Big Oil, the companies that verifiably spread misinformation about climate change for decades, cannot withstand the public pressure anymore and publicly speak out for a lower carbon economy.
Public support is not the problem
The Oxford shortlist shows how omnipresent climate and environmental issues have been this year. The runner-ups were climate action, climate crisis, climate denial, eco-anxiety, ecocide, extinction, flight shame, global heating, net-zero and plant-based. This list reflects the opinion of citizens in the EU, of which 40% see the environmental protection as the most important issue for the EU, more than any other topic.
Especially for the youth, the climate emergency is the defining issue of our time. Throughout the year, millions of mostly young people have taken to the streets to demand more action from their governments.
So, let´s hope after 2019 was the year talking about climate emergency, 2020 will be the year, when we finally act upon it.