UK forms citizens’ assembly on climate change

A cross-section of society will be invited to debate how to share the costs and rewards of meeting the government’s net zero emissions target

The UK Parliament building in Westminster (Pic: Flickr/Javier Díaz Barrera)

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The UK is set to hold a citizen’s assembly to steer climate policy, months after activist movement Extinction Rebellion made it one of its three core demands.

Six parliamentary select committees made the announcement in response to government plans to slash greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.

Lawmakers focused on policies across business, energy, transport, science, housing, environment and finance all backed the democratic exercise, to take place over a series of weekend sessions.

“Climate change affects all of us, so today’s announcement of a citizens’ assembly is an ideal way to give a voice to the people,” MP and chair of the treasury committee, Nicky Morgan, said.

“Like select committees, the citizens’ assembly will work across political boundaries; it will demonstrate the conclusions around which a consensus can be built for how best to achieve net zero.”

Set to launch in autumn, the citizens’ assembly will debate how to share the potential costs of a shift to a clean economy, considering the impacts on vulnerable and fossil fuel dependent communities. Its conclusions will not be binding, but will inform policymakers.

Ireland’s democratic experiment lays the ground for stronger climate action

Extinction Rebellion, whose demonstrations have propelled climate change up the UK political agenda in recent months, had called for a citizens’ assembly on “climate and ecological justice”. Its other asks were for the UK government to “tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency, working with other institutions to communicate the urgency for change” and to reduce emissions to net zero by 2025.

“It is encouraging to see that our third demand is now being taken seriously by parliament,” campaigner Lynda Doyle said.

“It is important that we recognise the voice of ordinary people and work towards a just transition for all – nationally and internationally. Unfortunately, there are many problems with this proposal. The suggested assembly does not have any legislative power and we are concerned its advice and conclusions will not be fully implemented.

“Our demands call for a citizens’ assembly organised independent of government and we want to see an oversight body established to ensure that the government does not have any undue influence over the agenda, evidence, or the eventual conclusions.”

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The move follows a similar initiative to take place in Ireland, with 99 citizens selected to represent a cross-section of society. The assembly made several recommendations for a fair transition, including a higher and wider carbon tax to that floated by the government, incentives for electric vehicles and an end to subsidies for peat extraction.

Earlier this month, France’s council of ministers announced the creation of a citizens’ convention. That was one of the first demands of France’s yellow jackets movement, which was initially sparked by a tax hike on the price of diesel.

Made up of 150 citizens drawn up at random and representative of society’s diversity, the French body will produce legislative proposals and regulations. Such initiatives will then be put to parliament, direct referendum or immediately take on the form of regulation.

Environment minister François de Rugy travelled to Cork in late May to take stock of Ireland’s pioneering initiative.

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