The Climate Emergency Mobilization Framework: A Critical Review

Professor Hans A Baer
School of Social and Political Sciences
University of Melbourne

Various scholars and climate activists have proposed a framework for climate change campaigning based on the argument that climate change mitigation is so urgent and immense that it requires emergency measures like those adopted by the Allied powers during World War II. For example, Jorgen Randers and Paul Gilding maintain that a climate emergency plan is likely to emerge prior to 2020 when global society finally more fully recognises the threat of climate change to humanity. They maintain that their action plan can keep global warming below 1oC above pre-industrial levels. Randers and Gilding envision three phases in their plan:

  • A climate war (years 1-5) which would launch global society to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 per cent within five years.
  • A climate neutrality phase (years 5-20) which would lock in the 50 per cent emergency reductions, and move the world to net zero climate emissions during this phase.
  • A climate recovery phase (years 20-100) which would entail stabilization of the global climate system and the creation of a sustainable global economy.

Their climate war model is extremely detailed, but for purposes of illustration I list several of their recommendations:

  • Reduce deforestation and other logging by 50 percent;
  • Shut down 1,000 coal power plants within five years;
  • Ration electricity;
  • Construct a wind turbine or solar plant in every town;
  • Create huge wind and solar farms in desert areas;
  • Ration use of highly polluting cars to reduce transport emissions by 50 percent;
  • Gradually reduce the world’s aircraft by 50 percent;
  • Launch shop less, live more campaigns.

Randers and Gilding propose the creation of a climate war command on the part of countries participating in the plan, which would draw upon advice from the IMF and the IPCC as well as various multi-national military commands, presumably such as NATO. This command structure would introduce a global tax of US$100 per ton of CO2 emissions which would have two aims: ‘to fund the war effort (i.e. the development and implementation of the various actions described above) and to alleviate the resulting hardship – primarily among the poor (globally speaking)’.2 This climate emergency plan does not call for a radical restructuring of global capitalism.

While in part agreeing with the spirit of various climate emergency plans, Delinda and Diesendorf express a number of concerns about them.3 They maintain that the 10-year transition scenarios are utopian and unachievable but maintain that 25-30-year transitions would be possible in a number of developed countries, as would a 40-year global transition provided that the global economy shifted to international trade in renewable energy. Delinda and Diesendorf are concerned that climate emergency plans in instances where governments fail to gain popular support could result in long-term authoritarian regimes.

Given that there is a tendency for multi-national corporations in most countries to make or break governments and politicians, it seems that at least for the foreseeable future, few governments exist which are strong enough (albeit China may be an exception) to implement a climate emergency plan. Finally, while the threat of the Axis powers became increasingly apparent in both the West and the East during the late 1930s and early 1940s, most economic and political elites, let alone ordinary people, do not at the present time appear to perceive the existence of a climate emergency since heat waves, droughts, bushfires, hurricanes, floods, etc., in their minds come and go. Eventually, however, this perception is likely to alter as climatic crises intensify around the globe.

Climate emergency mobilization plans tend to romanticise the Allied mobilization against the threat of the Axis powers during World War. Bear in mind that the Manhattan Project that constituted the culmination of this mobilisation resulted not only in the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but paved the way for the Cold War backed up by 1000s of nuclear weapons ready for deployment on the part of both the US and the USSR and ultimately the proliferation of nuclear weapons to many other countries.

So who is the enemy when it comes to climate change? Is humanity as a whole, as the concept of the Anthropocene, regardless when it commenced, the enemy? I believe that those climate justice activists around the world who chant ‘system change, not climate change’ have correctly identified the enemy, namely global capitalism, when it comes to climate change.4 Thus, it might be more appropriate to say that humanity now finds itself living within the Capitalocene. Climate justice activists are seeking in a variety of ways to form alliances with other anti-systemic movements, particularly the global social justice, indigenous, peasant rights, and women’s rights movements, to address the socio-ecological and climate crises.5,6 But discussion of an effort to combat climate change from below – one that would be part and parcel of an ecological revolution – rather than above – as would be the case for a climate war mobilisation framework – will have to be the topic for another CAOS blog discussion forum.

This post is a response to the CAOS Provocation Climate Change: War Footing or Peaceful Solidarity?. Read the other responses:



1Randers, J. and P. Gilding. (2010). ‘The one degree war plan,’ Journal of Global Responsibility 1 (1):170-188.
2Randers and Gilding, Ibid., p. 183.
3Delinda, LL. and M. Diesendorf (2013). ‘Is wartime mobilisation a suitable policy model for rapid national climate mitigation?’ Energy Policy 58:371-380.
4Baer, HA. (2013). Global Capitalism and Climate Change: The Need for an Alternative World System, Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press.
5Bond, P. (2012). Politics of Climate Justice: Paralysis Above, Movement Below. Scottsville, South Africa: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press.
6Roger, C. (2014). Capitalism and Its Alternatives. London: Zed Books.