November 6, 2019
New forms of democracy
Interesting that Westminster has set the wheels in motion for a Citizens’ Assembly to be convened next year to consider how the country should address the climate emergency. Whether this signals a genuine willingness to explore more deliberative approaches to democracy remains to be seen but we can only hope the mainstream media will show more interest in this initiative than has been shown towards the Citizens’ Assembly of Scotland – the most ambitious foray yet into more participatory forms of democracy . With the first weekend of six just completed, barely a mention (other than some carping).
Click here to view the first weekend’s sitting of Scotland Citizen Assembly
Thirty-thousand people across the UK have been randomly chosen to take part in a citizens’ assembly on the climate emergency convened by MPs.
Invitations to the assembly, which will be held over four weekends in Birmingham from January to mid-March, are due to arrive from Wednesday next week.
Only 110 of the 30,000 people will take part in Climate Assembly UK, at which they will be asked to discuss how the UK should respond to the climate emergency and what policies they would like to see implemented to meet the target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, now enshrined in law. Those selected to take part will be demographically representative of the country.
The initiative comes from six select committees of MPs, which have managed to get the invitations out before parliament is dissolved for the election, so the next government will receive a full report on the outcome.
Citizens’ assemblies have been used in other countries to respond to complex and emotive national issues, such as abortion in Ireland, and have been advocated by some as a response to Brexit.
Rachel Reeves, the chair of the business, energy and industrial strategy select committee, said: “Adopting the net-zero target was a major milestone for the UK, reflecting the strong cross-party support for action on climate change. We now need to set out a clear roadmap, and finding solutions which are equitable and have public support will be crucial. Parliament needs to work with the people and with government to address the issue of climate change.”
The £520,000 cost of Climate Assembly UK is being met partly by the House of Commons, providing £120,000, with the rest split between two philanthropic foundations, the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and the European Climate Foundation.
Some campaigners also want to ensure politicians do not try to use assemblies as a way to put off taking urgent action on emissions while waiting for consensus to be built on some of the trickier questions.
Dave Timms, the head of political affairs at Friends of the Earth, said: “Much of what needs to be done already commands widespread public support and it is politicians that just need to bloody well get on with it now.”
The Liberal Democrats and the Green party have supported the idea of citizens’ assemblies to assist government decision-making. Wera Hobhouse, the Lib Dem climate change spokeswoman, said: “It is vital that citizens from across the UK are directly involved with ending the climate emergency – but this must be more than a talking shop.
“It is deeply disappointing that the Tory government have failed to take the lead. If they were serious about tackling the climate emergency, they wouldn’t leave it to backbench MPs.”
Caroline Lucas, the Green MP, said: “Tackling the climate emergency is not an issue just for politicians. It needs to include everyone or we will not succeed in building a sustainable, just and fair society. Citizens’ assemblies are the ideal vehicle to do this and I warmly welcome this initial step.”
Separately, the chancellor, Sajid Javid, has announced a review of the economics of reaching the net-zero target, including ways to use government policy to generate green growth and prevent the UK from exporting the emissions from manufacturing goods to other countries.
“The UK is leading the way on tackling climate change as the first major economy to legislate for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050,” he said.
“We must all play a part in protecting the planet for future generations. This review is a vital next step in delivering that commitment, ensuring that we can end our contribution to global warming, while supporting growth and balancing costs, to avoid placing unfair burdens on families or businesses.”