When the UK’s first national citizens’ assembly on climate change was announced in 2019, no one could have imagined that its results would be revealed as the country was reeling from a health crisis and a huge shock to the economic system.
But much like the neighbourly support our communities have seen during the past six months, Climate Assembly UK has shown that, when a determined group of people come together to deal with something much bigger than them, amazing things can happen.
The theme of collaboration and co-operation runs throughout the citizens’ assembly process and Climate Assembly UK saw 108 members from all walks of life come together over five months to provide detailed recommendations on how the UK should cut carbon right across the economy to mitigate climate change.
Together, the group was a microcosm of the UK population, not just in terms of age, gender and ethnicity, but also educational level, where in the UK they live, whether they live in an urban or a rural area, and varying levels of concern about climate change.
But whilst the method of reaching its verdict was hatched out through deliberation and debate, the outcome, published today, shows that the mandate for action on the climate crisis is clear and resounding. Assembly members have called for leadership from the government as one of their top three recommendations. This strongly echoes Green Alliance’s recommendations from the citizens’ juries on climate change we ran last year.
Low hanging fruit backed by Conservative MPs
Some of the actions required are low hanging fruit for the government. On transport, for example, assembly members recommend a ban on the sale of new petrol, diesel and hybrid cars by between 2030 – 2035. As transport has overtaken the power sector as the biggest emitter of carbon in the UK, this policy would instantly cut the UK’s carbon emissions by a significant amount, and is already backed by Conservative MPs.
Some results show that people are willing to support some truly transformational policies and, whilst Covid-19 almost derailed the process, the recommendations show enthusiasm for policies which could also help the country recover after such a turbulent and economically damaging year. For example, 92 per cent of participants supported getting to net zero carbon without pushing UK emissions to elsewhere in the world. As we showed in our Blueprint for a resilient recovery, a reduction of UK consumption emissions (the total generated during the production of goods we consume, wherever they’re produced), by improving industrial resource efficiency, would achieve this while in turn adding £10 billion a year to the bottom line for manufacturers. This would also help to level up regions whose economies are lagging behind, like the Midlands and the North, by expanding industry and providing new jobs.
It has bridged the gap between MPs and their constituents
We first recommended a citizens’ assembly on climate change back in 2018. Our report then was written by Professor Rebecca Willis who anonymously interviewed MPs to find out more about their action, or lack of it, on climate change. She concluded that a deliberative democratic process like a citizens’ assembly could help to bridge the gap between constituents and their MPs and make it clearer what people wanted their elected representatives to do and what the appetite for change is. Despite the challenges of running such a process during the pandemic, the Climate Assembly UK has been a highly successful exercise in providing that.
Whilst the 600 page report published today makes for a detailed and insightful read, ultimately the UK’s first ever national citizens’ assembly on climate change reminds us that right now we really do have an unfrozen moment to shake up the status quo and, with people’s consent, we can rebuild a nation that works better for communities, businesses and the environment. We don’t have to return to the old normal.
In his first speech to MPs after the 2019 general election, Boris Johnson pledged that he would deliver a “people’s parliament”, whatever the PM intended by that phrase, the Climate Assembly UK has put people at the heart of policy and they have spoken: they want action on climate change now.
The government already has the goal to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Today’s report reveals that people in the UK recognise that this cornerstone climate policy offers a roadmap to a more secure, healthier future for them and their families, and that there is a strong public mandate to pursue it boldly.
And let’s hope Downing Street is paying close attention to what they have said because the challenges of Brexit and Covid-19 economic recovery means the UK is crying out right now for truly transformative, popular ideas that will make the UK a prosperous nation in future.
[Photo source: mat_hias at Pixabay]