Against a nation state of emergency: how climate emergency politics can undermine climate justice

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Osborne, Natalie
Carlson, Anna
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In recent years, eco-activist groups, academics, industry groups, governments, and other organisations have called for, or declared, a climate emergency. These declarations offer discursive and political consent for emergency climate actions. Without refuting the urgent need to take meaningful action to limit and adapt to climate change, in this paper we argue emergency declarations can have effects that may ultimately work against climate justice. To do this, we contextualise climate injustice as part of a much longer history of colonial racial capitalism, and suggest that discourses and declarations of emergency often serve as tools through which the political conditions and histories that shape and sustain injustices, including environmental and climate injustices, are erased. Working from the present conjuncture and the aftermath of the ‘crisis’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, we show how discourses of emergency and crisis serve as tools through which the coercive and controlling powers of the state are sustained, maintained, and legitimised. Reading across a vast history of crisis colonialism, we show how emergency measures enable the expansion, consolidation, and militarisation of colonial settler states, linking existing anticolonial critiques with ideas of disaster capitalism and fossil fascism to offer a cautionary intervention into movements for climate action that persist with logics and discourses of emergency and crisis. We warn that declarations of emergency are not only ineffective tools in the pursuit of climate justice, but may be actively dangerous.

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npj Climate Action
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© The Author(s) 2023. Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this license, visit
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Political science
Climate change impacts and adaptation
Human impacts of climate change and human adaptation
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Osborne, N; Carlson, A, Against a nation state of emergency: how climate emergency politics can undermine climate justice, npj Climate Action, 2, pp. 46