Birmingham declares climate emergency

Olivia Wainwright
Olivia Wainwright
What’s next for 14-year-old campaigner Olivia Wainwright and her friends?


Eighty three Birmingham City Councillors voted unanimously to declare a climate emergency earlier this month. 

They called on the government to provide the 'powers and resources' to help Birmingham become zero-carbon by 2030. I was in the viewers’ gallery, swept up in the frenzy of excited applause, and finding it hard to suppress a glow of pride.

Only four short months before, the chances of Birmingham - the birthplace of the industrial revolution - declaring a climate emergency or even taking small steps towards defending the living planet seemed practically nonexistent.

Landslide action 

I thought back to the evening before the first youth strike, writing the words “I’m 14 years old and I want a future” on a piece of cardboard. I had no idea of the landslide of political action that was awaiting me.

It began sometime in January. My father showed me a video of a girl named Greta speaking in Davos about the climate. It was an amazing speech, but at the time I only expressed a mild interest.  

After following her Instagram account I researched the climate crisis and soon found out that youth strikes were taking place in Sweden, Belgium and Australia. My father had evidently done the same, as one evening he said: “If you ever wanted to do something like that, I’d totally support you.”

From then on I kept mulling over what I could do, and I finally found the answer when, over a plate of vegan pasta, my grandfather casually asked whether I’d seen that there was going to be a global youth strike for climate, and that people would be on the streets in London.

But climate solutions need to happen everywhere, so instead of looking into tickets to Euston, I texted some friends to see if they would join me striking in Brum.

Making friends

It can be frustrating growing up in a world so beset with problems. I’ve always wanted to make a positive change, but never known how.

I was keen to be like Greta and sit outside the Council House with a sign, but how does action outside lead to changes inside? I decided to write to some people who might know...

I started with my local Councillor Kerry Jenkins, who got straight back saying she would love to meet and put me in touch with a couple of others Councillors eager to help our cause.

Then I contacted Friends of the Earth, asking for advice about how to protest. They agreed to meet me and my friend before the strike... and so my activism began!

A few days later I climbed the steps to Birmingham’s Victoria Square, nervous and unsure of what to expect, but this trepidation soon melted into excitement as I saw there were others already there, a needed reassurance. I put my shyness aside and began to make friends.

Climate emergency 

Kerry Jenkins and another Labour councillor Olly Armstrong, who had come along with his two sons in tow, soon appeared outside the Council House and invited not just myself, but all thirty strikers inside, keen to hear our thoughts and demands.

We introduced ourselves, and then were asked the surprisingly difficult question, “What do you want from the council?” I raised my hand, stood up, and answered: “The very first thing that we need Birmingham to do is declare a climate emergency.”

Between that day and the unanimous declaration, there was a lot of work and a lot of support from a lot of people. At each new strike, we achieved more and more.

We met Councillors (including the Leader of Birmingham), working specifically with Lisa Trickett and Green councillor Julien Pritchard, MPs like Jess Phillips, Richard Burden and Liam Byrne, the Conservative Mayor Andy Street and other representatives of the West Midlands Combined Authority, people from Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and Extinction Rebellion.

We spoke on the local news, to newspapers, teachers unions amongst other Trade Unions, and at local area forums. Everywhere we went we were clear: political parties need to work together, they need to declare a climate emergency and the target needs to be 2030!

Carbon-free revolution

A few months later, all four political parties stood side-by-side proposing a motion to deliver on one of the strongest climate change targets in the world, stating: “Birmingham started the industrial revolution, it can lead the carbon-free revolution.”

Contrary to what many think, however, this does not mean our job is done. Birmingham Youth Strike 4 Climate is only just beginning and we will not stop until the council talk turns into action.

We have taken the crucial first step, but the next one may even be harder - if my Twitter feed is anything to go by, some Brummies may not take kindly to being at the forefront of climate action!

The Council will have to make it clear that this is positive for our city, it means faster journeys, cleaner air, less litter, stronger communities.

And anyway, we have no choice but to reduce our carbon emissions, it needs to be a priority, both socially and financially. There’s nothing more important than ecological breakdown - not even Brexit!

This Author 

Olivia Wainwright is a member of the Birmingham Youth Strike 4 Climate (@bhamys4c), she blogs about the climate and has been regularly striking since February 15 2019.

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