Emergency frames are mobilized in contemporary sustainability debates, both in response to specific events and strategically. The strategic deployment of emergency frames by proponents of sustainability action aims to stimulate collective action on issues for which it is lacking. But this is contentious due to a range of possible effects. We critically review interdisciplinary social science literature to examine the political effects of emergency frames in sustainability and develop a typology of five key dimensions of variation. This pinpoints practical areas for evaluating the utility of emergency frames and builds a shared vocabulary for analysis and decision-making.